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Over the past few years, we’ve had an influx of bands rocking fuzzy guitar tones and agitated lyrics. Is this the sign of a full-on comeback? ~ Jonathan Rimmer
‘Grunge Is back!’ – so says the fashion magazine ‘Vogue’ – and, to be fair, you must be living under a rock if you’ve missed the revival of vintage clothing (vintage meaning 90s, scarily enough).
To suggest that grunge music is back in business is maybe a bit hyperbolic. A lot of 2010s bands are quick to hail the genre as a primary influence but few, self-defined grunge bands have made a dent in the mainstream.
However, in the digital era, we’ve seen pretty much every style under the sun revived in some form. Kids who missed grunge the first time around are discovering them online. Unsurprisingly, there are a fair few modern acts that are bringing it back in all its scuzzy splendour.
Essential Album: ‘Growing Pains’ (2010)
“I’m on the edge and I need help // And I don’t mind // Cause I have no money and I’m outta time // Because nobody wants me.”
Heavily inspired by 90s alternative rock, including fellow primordial beasts, Dinosaur Jr., Dinosaur Pile-Up are England’s 21st century answer to grunge. Much like Nirvana, the band create a weighty sound for only three people.
What people tend to forget about Nirvana is that amidst all the angst, they also possessed a wicked sense of humour. With that in mind, this trio feel like a call-back to that era even through their use of guitar tones, loud drums and creative music videos.
Whereas the watered down post-grungers of the 2000s tended to lack nuance or subtlety, Dinosaur Pile-Up’s assorted elements invoke a sense of fun and nostalgia. Their albums are well-written but don’t take themselves too seriously.
Essential Album: ‘Hungry Ghosts’ (2013)
“She said to kick it through the middle // I’m screaming through an interface // Please take me away to another place.”
Australian band Violent Soho draw from various eras and styles of alternative rock, lifting twinkly Midwest guitar licks, sleazy vocals and punky rhythms. Their most appealing trait of all, though, is their mammoth-sized choruses.
One review of the band’s first album described the band as ‘sounding like The Vines on raw meat’, as if The Vines weren’t red-blooded enough. But Violent Soho also have more chops in the hook department, a more valuable ingredient of grunge than people recognise.
The band have built up a sturdy reputation down under but are less known elsewhere. As natural heirs to fuzz-pop rockers like Weezer, they deserve more credit.
Essential Album: ‘Ours Is Chrome’ (2015)
“Symmetry in everything, but one side is always fake // Take a look around and say that you can tell me different.”
Previously known as Daylight, American quartet, Superheaven, have played down their post-hardcore roots for a more rough-and-ready sound since changing names. Though they’ve retained their emotive delivery and angsty lyrics, their grooves have become gradually meatier.
It’s a template that’s common amongst so many 90s revivalists: sentimental themes followed by riffs that hit you like a sledgehammer. Superheaven do it better than most, recalling Nirvana (yes, Nirvana again) at their most expressive.
Of all the bands on the list, Superheaven also possess the most impressive production. Their riffs may sound monotone and repetitive to some ears, but others will appreciate the coherence of their all-consuming guitar gaze – it can be pretty hypnotic.
Essential Album: ‘Stand Still and Rot’ (2015)
“Anxiety rushes through me // I count to four and breathe in deep // Cause I don’t ever want to feel so alone again.”
Much like old-school punk, it doesn’t take much to make good grunge music. Scottish band, Pinact, recorded their debut record, ‘Stand Still and Rot’, as a two-piece. That’s right – thick, heavy guitar riffs, deafening drums and little else.
This raw sound recently attracted them to American independent label Kanine Records. In the 21st century, good grunge bands have international appeal, and Pinact appear to have as much of a fanbase in places like New York and Chicago as they do in Glasgow.
The band have recently recruited a bassist, which will allow them to better emulate idols like Nirvana (okay, last Nirvana reference), but they’ve been raw and appealing from the very start.
Essential Album: ‘Negative Feedback’ (2013)
Kicking Spit are so raw that their mixes literally sound like they’re coming from the basement downstairs, which makes sense given that’s the sort of location the band probably play most of their shows.
Of all the bands on the list, they’re probably the most dissonant and noisy sounding. Almost every track they’ve put out is awash with distortion and muddy production. Their vocals are vague and often indecipherable, but that doesn’t really matter when you make music as moody as this.
Kicking Spit are also probably the most divisive band here – you’ll either love or hate their directionless lo-fi approach. This is music to sweat in the dark rather than sulk in your room to – and there’s room in grunge for both.
Grunge is definitely making signs of a comeback – whether that’s in the form of a rigorous tribute or a more genre-melding fuzz-rock meltdown depends on the artist.
As scary as it might seem to some, the 90s is now remembered as retro to some, so plenty of bands will likely jump on the bandwagon in the near future. Regardless, the genre’s not oversaturated yet – who else would you suggest to check out?
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