In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we’re picking our favorite less-popular songs from 1994.
In 1994 there’s no way I could have imagined just how big an imprint the year would leave on my musical taste. I was too young to have been immersed in anything even slightly underground, but looking back now the year offered a barrage of albums that—once I discovered them—would be placed on regular rotation and would go on to inform parts of my being to this day. So, it feels a little like sacrilege to not pick something from Jawbreaker’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Drive Like Jehu’s Yank Crimes, or Superchunk’s Foolish, but it proves even harder not to pick something from Avail’s Dixie.
While the bands listed above all received some form of their just desserts—even if it took disbanding to attain it—the devotion of Avail fans has always felt akin to a secret society. Before I had even heard Dixie I’d seen patches baring the album’s cover art—a stick-figure person carrying a flag over its shoulder—and it was this kind of basement show ubiquity that made me finally take the plunge and give the album a chance. It’d be a lie to say that Dixie made perfect sense upon first listen, but after a few attempts Avail’s marriage of hooky hardcore and southern concerns finally made sense, due in large part to the explained why people were so devoted to the band: “South Bound 95.”
“South Bound 95” may not be the best introduction to Avail, as it wouldn’t become truly accessible until the release of 4am Friday two years later, but it shows why the band felt like such an outlier in its earlier days. After the a sample of the first verse of the “Dixie”—the confederate song that inspired the album’s name—ripples of feedback rise up, and after a quick run on the song’s two-chord riff, drummer Erik Larson offers a hybrid snare roll/four-count that indicates the song’s start, allowing for a non-stop adrenaline rush even in the song’s half-time choruses. With each syllabic scream of “Rich / Mond / V. / A.” punctuating “South Bound 95,” Avail dares listeners not to join in on those shouted gang vocals, allowing fans to work through the band’s complex love-hate relationship with Richmond right along with it. It’s that invitation to become one with Avail that explains why Dixie is still deserving of reverence two decades on, even if it’s only a small cult still offering such devotion to it.