Here are 25 underrated gems from perhaps the best musical year in modern memory.
Tad – 8 Way Santa (Jamie)
Tad was really the quintessential grunge band. The band was an outfit anyone could Identify with. I mean Cornell was a golden god, Nirvana was so damn cool, Pearl Jam was stadium sized, Alice in Chains was metal tastic, Mudhoney was all sarcastic and Melvins was (and are) weird as fuck. Tad was a band of four bozos playing down tuned, sludgy but melodic tunes. Nothing too fancy. The everyman grunge band. 8 Way Santa is the group’s second album and sees them enlist Butch Vig to add some sheen to their chug. He polishes the sound up a touch but the record still sounds like it was recorded in a swamp. ‘Jinx’ is a banger.
Fugazi – Steady Diet of Nothing (Jamie)
This record from seminal post hardcore chaps Fugazi is often discarded as their least memorable effort. The group’s canon is so powerful that even if it is their least accomplished record, it is still one of the best records of the ‘90s. Plus the title is inspired by Bill Hicks. The album is quite sparse in relation to their other albums but this adds a focus that is sometimes missing from later albums like Red Medicine (1995) and End Hits (1998). The band’s use of space on this album is essential. Songs don’t just pummel and attack, they swirl and hypnotise. An approach that they pioneered here and perfected on The Argument (2001).
Screaming Trees – Uncle Anesthesia (Jamie)
Alt rock quartet Screaming Trees is more famous for Sweet Oblivion (1992) and Dust (1996), but Uncle Anesthesia is where they really started to come into their own. Benefitting from more professional production courtesy of Terry Date and Chris Cornell and financing from their recent signing to major label Epic Records, the group were able to begin to come close to achieving their swirling, hypnotic and meaty psychedelic inspired sound. ‘Bed of Roses’ is the highlight here showcasing Mark Lanegan’s world weary vocals. Multi percussionist Barrett Martin joined later in 1991 which enabled the band to really take it to the next level.
Dinosaur Jr. – Green Mind (Jamie)
The fourth album from fuzzy Massachusetts outfit Dinosaur Jr. is pretty much a solo album for bandleader J Mascis. When the album was recorded bassist Lou Barlow had buggered off to focus on his lo-fi project Sebadoh and drummer Murph only appears on three tracks. As a result, the album is often seen as the beginning of the band’s decline leading to their break up later in the ‘90s. However, in hindsight, the album is chock full of damn catchy rock songs and actually benefits from a cleaner and clear production style.
Smashing Pumpkins – Gish (Jamie)
An album unlike any other in the Pumpkin’s canon. Gish is hugely indebted to psychedelia sporting swirling guitars and a very hazy, druggy and trippy atmosphere. There’s still plenty of fuzzy guitar though. ‘I Am One’ is a blast. For most bands this could be a career highlight, but obviously we all know Corgan and co went on to have a pretty damn stellar ‘90s. The less said about the last twenty years the better though. Ah well, can always crank this up and remember the ecstatic beauty of early Pumpkins.
Green Day – Kerplunk (Jamie)
Green Day get some amount of guff. For spawning the whole over saturation of pop punk in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s and for churning out a succession of pretty damn terrible albums over the last fifteen or so years. But, at one time, they knocked out fun, humorous, human and melodic pop punk that was just plain excellent. On Kerplunk they pretty much perfect their self deprecating early sound. Dookie was bigger, but this has an endearingly raw and homespun quality that the trio have unfortunately lost over the years.
Unsane – Unsane (Jamie)
From Whores to METZ there’s about a million noise rock bands who owe a damn lot to Unsane and their self titled debut album. On their debut the band take the cacophonous sounds of Big Black, Sonic Youth and Swans and marry it to a more direct and immediate approach. The result is a terrifying but accessible aural assault. Overall the group released eight albums of equally awesome buzzsaw albums before calling it a day in 2019. Iconic.
Sebadoh – III (Jamie)
In 1989 Dinosaur Jr bassist Lou Barlow was asked to leave the band by J Mascis. Luckily Lou had his side project Sebadoh to fall back on. While Sebadoh had punky and raucous moments, the music was definitely more sensitive and twee than Dinosaur Jr. III is probably Sebadoh’s best release. A lo-fi and beautiful album, it showcases Lou’s rather excellent songwriting chops which had been unfortunately stifled by Mascis’ dominance in Dinosaur Jr.
Bikini Kill – Revolution Girl Style Now (Emma)
Bikini Kill gave a nasty and bloody birth to the Riot grrrl movement and sound in their debut cassette demo, Revolution Girl Style Now. Through provocative song titles that flipped typical pop anthems on their heads and direct, raw lyrics full of both selth-loathing and pride, Bikini Kill told the scene what it was really like to be a woman. Check out lyrics for “Daddy’s L’il Girl”: Daddy’s girl don’t wanna be/ His whore no more …/ Didn’t know I’d have to lose so much / For daddy’s love. As the demo title’s states, Bikini Kill started its own revolution in the anarchy DIY punk scene. They told the scene that punk was feminine, inclusive, but also to go fuck itself.
Superchunk – No Pocky for Kitty (Emma)
No Pocky for Kitty is the sophomore album of DIY pioneers Superchunk. The album itself doesn’t stick out in Superchunk’s extensive discography; however, it is a necessary influence for all teen/adolescent punk to follow. No Pocky for Kitty showcases Superchunk’s potential for growth in the tightness of their sound compared to their self-titled debut album (1990). If Superchunk’s work is a beautiful, angsty, tall, Chapel Hill pine, No Pocky for Kitty is the tree’s flourishing root system. Album favorites: “Skip Steps 1 & 3” and “Throwing Things.”
Screeching Weasel – My Brain Hurts (Emma)
With one of many breakups already in the books, Screeching Weasel came back together under Ben Weasel’s condition that the band produce more Ramones-inspired tracks; hence, the band churned out My Brain Hurts. The album is a dazzle in classic punk chord structure, that while simple, creates the traditional jump-a-long bop kids crave at shows. The band’s arrangement of ‘I Can See Clearly” stemmed a fun custom of punk bands covering oldies, as well as inspired a new generation of pop-punk vocal mixing, clean bass lines racing fast drums, and perfect guitar flicks. Album favorites: “Guest List,” “Teenage Freakshow,” and “My Brain Hurts.”
Pixies – Trompe le Monde (Emma)
Trompe le Monde is the last album before the original Pixies’ line-up parted ways, the most underrated of their early albums, and my favorite. This album stands out from the previous three. There is a terrifying anger in Black Francis’ vocals; however, there is a smoothness to the vocals that sails over the band’s intricate licks and signature start-stop tempos. While the Pixies’ noise-pop cacophony is more level in this album, the tension is palpable in every bass line, drum kick, and chord progression. It is clear that something is brewing right under the surface, ready to fuck shit up. Album favorites: “Head On,” “U-Mass,” and “Bird Dream of the Olympus Mons.”
NOFX – Ribbed (Emma)
Ribbed is NOFX’s third album out of an infamous growing catalogue. This album is notable for the band’s inaugural commitment to harmonies, which has become a part of the standard NOFX sound. The album is funny, trite, and Fat Mike is adorably obnoxious in his usual style. The songs’ subjects are semi-veiled compared to later albums, but if you listen closely, they have the same ironic and logical point of view, with arguments fit to go head to head with your parole officer. Each song is an ode of love and hate to LA and insane guitar solos. If there is one word to describe NOFX over the decades, it’s consistent.
Violent Femmes – Why Do Birds Sing (Emma)
Why Do Birds Sing is the fifth studio album by the Milwaukee quartet. It also marks the last album with drummer Victor DeLorenzo. Highlights in the album include DeLorenzo’s combination of brushes, rimshots, and cajon slapping, rockabilly baselines that shine, and Gordon Gano’s lazy and sexy yowl. The band’s cover of Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” twists the drab song into a crooning flamenco. Album favorite: “American Music.”
The Jesus Lizard – Goat (Philip)
The Jesus Lizard seemed to have existed in a genre all their own. They refused to adhere to the rigidity often associated with hardcore while being able to deliver weird angular music that excited people. David Yow was someone who grabbed your attention immediately. Occasionally hilarious and often unhinged. Check out live versions of “Mouth Breather” for proof. They had the song-writing and musical chops to be able to go toe to toe with anyone. This captured them in concentrated and ferocious best and superb production work from Steve Albini. They may not have gotten the plaudits as bands who followed in their wake, but their impact was undeniable. Noise rock rarely gets better.
Melvins – Bullhead (Philip)
Seattle in the late eighties/early nineties became ubiquitous with the movement that became known as grunge. It could be argued that two genres owe their heritage to the area and to one band in particular: Melvins. They had already been cited as one of the main inspirations for grunge with their amalgamation of punk and metal. This release went further down the route of complete sonic assault. Their compositions became longer, slower and unsettlingly heavy. The involvement of down-tuned and repetitive riffing, loose and inventive drumming and weighty bass all made their mark. It became a landmark album in the development of sludge metal. The likes of “Boris” lit the torchwood for the embryonic drone scene. Always outsiders, they forged their own path going forward.
Mercury Rev – Yerself Is Steam (Philip)
Yerself is Steam remains one of those albums that is timeless. It did not sound like it belonged upon release, yet it could have been put together last week. It is the echo of a band engaged on a voyage of exploration, sonically or otherwise. At times, drenched in bright and wide-eyed psychedelia. (“Chasing A Bee”) At others, containing intense and brutal guitar feedback (“Very Sleepy River”). The band claimed to have been inspired as much by the wide-open landscape of their native Buffalo, cinematic compositions, and the beat era as any musical influences. The extreme nature of their lifestyle, growing tensions and shifting styles saw the departure of vocalist David Barker and the evolution into a more melodic and streamlined approach.
Cathedral – Forest of Equilibrium (Philip)
It seemed a head scratcher for many upon first hearing Cathedral’s debut. Lee Dorian had cut his teeth in the crust/punk scene and had provided the vocals for Napalm Death’s first two studio releases. The blistering pace and furious delivery was forgotten about. Instead, the band channelled their love for seventies metal and a slow, doom-laden approach. But it was the immense guitar tone, raw production feel and unique vocal style that set them apart. They were able to take on the lessons of the past while setting out a blueprint for those to follow on tracks like “Commiserating the Celebration”. They took on different styles as their career to varying results. They, and the British doom scene, might not have been the same without this.
Therapy? – Babyteeth (Philip)
Everyone’s favourite commotion makers from Northern Ireland first announced themselves on this mini-album. The recognisable combination of industrial noise, hardcore punk, catchy riffing and outrageously dark humour was all present in spades. They were a breath of fresh air on arrival and many of the tracks like “Meat Abstract” remain live favourites. The production is generally not the best as the instruments are turned up way too high. It demonstrated what possibilities awaited them with a proper label and bigger budget. It remains a glimpse of the sheer intensity and exciting prospect they were on stage. And still going strong to this day gladly.
Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese (Philip)
Plenty of alternative metal bands were knocking around with funk influences in their music and approaches to music that were not considered part of the norm. Few if any reached the levels of weirdness of Primus. They dropped heavy metal, funk, progressive rock, and oddball sensibilities into the mix and somehow made it work. The compositions and lyrics made them a prospect that baffled many. More considered them deliberately vulgar. “Grand-dad’s Little Ditty” being a case in point. The playing was of an incredibly high level, but always a demonstration of the impeccable and complicated bass playing of Les Claypool. They remain an inspiration to all bands who choose to follow their own path regardless of the consequences.
Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona (Philip)
The best of outfits are those whose members bring different elements to the table. Throwing Muses were one such band as they combined candid and stark lyrics, unorthodox song structures, and melodic harmonies. The meshing of ideas coalesced perfectly here as they produced their most complete album. They found a new maturity in their song-writing to bring about a collection of sumptuously crafted indie pop songs. They were able to achieve this without losing their quirky and strange identities. Greater focus was placed on the rhythmic structure, and this helped expand the musical vocabulary of the band. It marked a creative highpoint for the band, but also signified their farewell as members became more involved in side-projects and solo careers that took up their time.
Corrosion of Conformity – Blind (Philip)
When it came to bands during this time, there were a myriad of different influences available to incorporate without the need to adhere to rules. Corrosion of Conformity had earned their reputation as one of the fastest and angriest outfits associated with the hardcore/thrash scene. This album found them at a crossroads of sorts. Members were about to leave, and new blood had just arrived. And it was they who brought a whole new set of sounds with them. Southern grove, Sabbath drenched stoner jams, punk, and classic rock were all blended to create something magical. “Damned for all Time” just kicks for instance. Keeping the same energy from before but looking towards the future.
Coroner – Mental Vortex (Philip)
While thrash metal was still a viable genre at the time, it was approaching its decline. Bands were faced with the prospect of changing their style or being left behind. Coroner successfully managed this. They were always a band who existed on the fringes of the scene due to their unorthodox playing style and coming from Switzerland. They faced the challenge by upping their game in the technical front. Dissonant riffing, sampling and spiralling chord sequences all made themselves known. They were also able to retain the ability to put together catchy and memorable sections which set them apart. They broke up not long afterwards but got back together a few years back for live dates.
Sepultura – Arise (Philip)
As tape trading grew among the community of extreme metal fans, many began to seek out newer bands from previously unfamiliar locations. This certainly led to the growth in popularity of Brazilian death/trashers Sepultura. This album marked their peak in a lot of ways. Signing for a major label allowed them larger budgets, extensive touring brought them to a wider fan base, and Scott Burns on production all helped. But it was their musical development which was key to making a great album. The creative spark in the band was at its height as they brought hardcore punk, industrial elements and tribal beats into the fold which was a rarity previously. The work on “Dead Embryonic Cells” for example. Tensions within the band rose as time went on. This marked their apex though.
Asphyx – The Rack (Philip)
Slow death metal was not a new development, thanks to the likes of Autopsy and Obituary. The Dutch masters ramped it up a notch though. The emphasis was less on technical flashiness or churning grove like their Florida associates. Theirs was a concentration on bringing the music down to its ugly, primitive level. The arrival of Martin Van Drunen from Pestilence was another feather in their cap. His deranged yowl meshed perfectly with the music on show. Equal parts hardcore punk, thrashy elements and doom metal. They nail the atmosphere needed for such an album with its nasty, feral and menacing vibe on tracks like “Evocation”. They improved certain rough touches on subsequent releases, but still managed to hold a powerful intensity.