In August of 1991, a month before Nevermind was released, and when hair metal was still pretty much the only thing on the radio that bore any resemblance to rock, a tiny indie label called No.6 Records released a compilation of guitar instrumentals called Guitarrorists. It featured names that would be familiar only to resolute undergroundists at the time, but many of them would soon find mainstream attention—these guitarists were members of bands like Afghan Whigs, The Butthole Surfers, The Flaming Lips, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and other, less immortal bands that would nonetheless experience some success within a few years of the comp’s release. And it should go without saying that a lot of it is fantastic.
Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne’s “I Want to Kill My Brother: The Cymbal Head” is an insane, noisy, and dynamic journey through Coyne’s very strange mind:
Wayne Coyne - “I Want to Kill My Brother: The Cymbal Head”
Big Black/Rapeman/Shellac guitarist and Nirvana recording engineer Steve Albini’s contribution “Nutty About Lemurs” sounds unsurprisingly abrasive and, well, very very Albinilike.
Steve Albini - “Nutty About Lemurs”
A big curveball on the album is “A Little Ethnic Song,” by Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis, which sounds nothing like the first thing you thought when you read his name. And it’s really wonderful.
J. Mascis - “A Little Ethnic Song”
Tom Hazelmeyer never became a household name playing guitar for Halo Of Flies, but as big boss man at Amphetamine Reptile Records, he shaped the sound of the ‘90s bludgeon-rock underground as much as anyone. He’s lately turned up on the rock radar again, guesting on guitar with the Brisbane band No Anchor. His Guitarrorists contribution is the skin-flaying “Guitar Wank-Off #13.”
Tom Hazelmeyer - “Guitar Wank-Off #13”
Interesting for how far this selection sticks out from the crowd, and for how lovely it is amid the sea of distortion that is much of the comp, here’s “I Really Can’t Say,” by Kathy Korniloff from Two Nice Girls, a folk-rock band from Austin, notably loud-and-proud out lesbians at a time when that kind of openness was still highly unusual, and far riskier than it is today. They broke up in 1992, but scored some college radio love with a gem of an anthem called “I Spent My Last $10 on Birth Control and Beer.”
Kathy Korniloff - “I Really Can’t Say”
Lastly, though there are contributions on the CD from all three guitar-wielding Sonic Youths, only one of them seems to have found its way online. Here’s an appropriately stark fan video for Lee Ranaldo’s pensive acoustic solo “Here”:
Lee Ranaldo - “Here”