Various artists

"Alternative music with a vision launches the musical trends of tomorrow" -- what a noble philosophy! Once upon a time, many of us actually believed it, at least until the corporate world came in and bastardized the idea of an underground. But the folks at the staunchly independent Triple X Records, God bless 'em, still hold the dream, because they've seen the reality.

This compilation celebrates 14 years of surviving without backing from a major corporation, thereby trading a huge bank account for the freedom, joy and honor of signing bands they actually like (a fairly unique concept in this day and age). The result is a fearlessly eclectic catalogue that broke away from not just the mainstream, but the equally rigid guidelines of punk rock as well. Triple X not only saved many SoCal punk veterans -- the Adolescents, the Dickies, Jeff Dahl, D.I. -- from extinction (and consequently pried open the door for the Offspring), it also rescued the Gun Club (psycho-roots punk finally gets legit -- nah!), Rozz Williams (the goth artist with the most creativity, and the sickest fantasies -- thankfully still not legit), Urban Dance Squad (samplin' and rappin' that grooves deserves to go legit), L.A.P.D. (rap 'n' roll is born, becomes the voice of the next generation -- unfortunately, it's turned into Korn, but hey, accidents happen), and, of course, its crown jewel, Jane's Addiction -- without whom none of this shit would've ever been heard outside college radio.

That's only the short list of an indie-phile's wet dream of a roster. . . . But what if you're too embarrassed to admit you don't know the Miracle Workers, even with that Brett Gurewitz connection, or have only heard the titillating rumors about the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs? Or, horror of horrors, you've never actually heard a Gun Club song? Another great thing about Triple X is that it opens the club even to dabblers and schmoes who haven't passed the High Fidelity Music Trivia Bar Exam. Instead of sneering from atop his vinyl mountain like you'd expect, Bruce Duff -- the label's A&R dude/publicity guru/veteran punk (he's a member of the Adz) -- lovingly squeezes all the facts you'll need into brief, witty liner notes.

But if you really want to bone up on your indie history, you should listen to this crash course of an album. Like the label itself, there's no pecking order, or even logic, to the track selection. The result is a (mostly) delightful buffet of both classics and obscurities from early and present-day artists. You'll get to hear what all the hubbub over the Gun Club was about (simply spine-chilling), understand why the Adolescents were so scary and the Angry Samoans were equally worshiped and loathed, and argue with the multi-pierced kid next door over whether surf bastardizers D.I. or hypermetalheads the Exploited were the best shredders.

At the risk of plagiarizing Mr. Duff, you'll also hear why the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs are compared so often to the MC5, and when a Selmer sax can be cooler than a Rickenbacker bass (don't turn your nose up at psychedelic jazz noise if you haven't heard Brooklyn's Spongehead). You may also ask yourself if Inger Lorre actually does a Junkie Whore Courtney Love better than Courtney herself, and why isn't she embarrassed? Or, what the hell is the great Bo Diddley doing with this gangsta 'tude? But hey, it's all part of the package. Where else can you get this much trash culture for five bucks? Now that's alternative.

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