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10 Awesome '90s Alternative Bands You May Not Know About

Updated on June 8, 2017
Jesse Drzal profile image

The '90s were a fun time to grow up, with some great music to enjoy during formative years.

'90s Alternative

The '90s were a solid time for music, arguably one of the last great decades of new and original bands and artists, especially in the alternative genre. While some of these groups may have been in the mainstream to some extent at one point, this list serves to highlight some favorite songs from bands that can be rediscovered by a music fan from that era, or new music fans looking for artists from the past to discover as well. Here they are in no particular order.

Sunny Day Real Estate live in 2010
Sunny Day Real Estate live in 2010 | Source

Sunny Day Real Estate

Considered alternative as well as emo pioneers, Sunny Day Real Estate blur the lines of both genres with their original and groundbreaking sound. Whether considered alternative or emo, Sunny Day was one of the best rock bands of the 90's in my humble opinion. Formed in 1992 by some mutual college friends, they released their epic debut, Diary on Sub Pop Records. Pink Album, or LP2, was put out during a breakup period, with the band returning to form on How It Feels To Be Something On in 1998, also on Sub Pop.

2000 saw Sunny Day release their swan song album, The Rising Tide. After the final breakup, some of the members went on to form The Fire Theft while drummer William Goldsmith and bassist Nate Mendel also formed the first rhythm section of Foo Fighters, with Nate still with the band. In 2009 Sunny Day Real Estate reunited and played some sporadic dates and did release a new song in 2014, but remains inactive as of today.

''In Circles'' by Sunny Day Real Estate

School of Fish

School of Fish were more of a one hit wonder band, best known for the song ''Three Strange Days'' in 1991. Only one more album, Human Cannonball was released after the successful self-titled debut release, and the follow-up failed to create much buzz. The group ultimately disbanded in 1994. A big hit at the time and a catchy tune, I can still remember having the song stuck in my head on my first day of high school, wandering around trying to find everything for one strange day.

''Three Strange Days'' by School of Fish

Sugar

After the highly regarded and influential punk/hardcore group Husker Du disbanded in the late eighties, singer-songwriter Bob Mould, the creative force behind Sugar, released two solo records before forming Sugar with bassist David Barbe and Malcolm Travis on drums rounding out the three piece.

The group's highlight album was Copper Blue in 1992, released to critical acclaim at the time but ultimately failing to have a really huge impact when first released. Sugar was fairly short-lived, disbanding in 1995 and Bob Mould going on to other endeavors. Copper Blue has aged like fine wine and is still considered a 90's classic with it's lush and catchy melodies.

Bob Mould from Sugar live in 2005
Bob Mould from Sugar live in 2005 | Source

''A Good Idea'' by Sugar

Morphine

Hailing from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Morphine had a different sound using organs and saxophones to create a laid-back and soulful style of music with lots of low end and baritone vocals. The band pretty much stayed in the underground indie rock circle for their career in the 90's, but created a good following from word of mouth and touring.

Unfortunately, in 1999 bassist and lead singer Mark Sandman suffered a heart attack onstage during a concert in Italy and passed on instantly, and the remaining members have formed some tribute projects through the years. Cure For Pain from 1993 is my favorite Morphine album.

''Cure For Pain'' by Morphine

The Jesus Lizard

One of the biggest beneficiaries of producer Steve Albini's legendary organic warm and booming analog sound was The Jesus Lizard. The group featured a crushing rhythm section, with guitarist Duane Denison and vocalist David Yow sprinkling the texture on top, and song structures that usually threw the standard verse chorus verse formula out of the window. The Lizard had all sorts of underground credentials, even doing a split recording with Nirvana, of whom Kurt Cobain was a fan.

The band eventually landed a spot on Capitol Records, although never reached the heights of some of their other alternative contemporary's, which is a shame. The two high water mark albums for The Jesus Lizard were Goat and Liar, with myself giving Goat the overall nod. Great band highly underrated. Duane Denison went on to form Tomahawk with Mike Patton (Faith No More), and the Lizard reunited through 2008-2010 for some tours but remain inactive

Jesus Lizard live 2009
Jesus Lizard live 2009 | Source

''Then Comes Dudley'' by The Jesus Lizard

Jawbox

Jawbox had it roots firmly implanted in the Washington D.C punk scene with singer and guitarist J. Robbins playing in Government Issue. Jawbox also had their early recordings released on the underground indie label Dischord Records. In 1994, the group was signed to major label Atlantic Records and came out with the highly influential For Your Own Special Sweetheart, and seeing the band get some MTV airplay as well. Jawbox disbanded in 1997 and reunited for a one time only appearance on Jimmy Fallon in 2009.

''Savory'' by Jawbox

TAD

TAD was a rough and tumble outfit from Seattle formed in 1988. The band was signed to Sub Pop Records for early recordings before getting signed to some major labels like Warner and Elektra, but more causing turmoil for the band than commercial success. TAD was a respected band throughout the early grunge scene but never made a real impact outside of it.

Inhaler is an absolute crucial album from TAD if you are into nineties grunge/alternative. No pre-packaged teenage angst here, just real dudes that came out with good music. And chainsaws.

''Wood Goblins'' by TAD

Failure

Failure was active from 1990-1997, reforming in 2014 and releasing the wonderful The Heart Is A Monster album. Why this band did not make a bigger impact in the 90's is beyond me, Fantastic Planet released in 1996 remains a favorite of all time, with its deep spaced out songs and textures. ''Stuck on You'' is an essential track from that album. Guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen went on to play for A Perfect Circle and Queens Of The Stone Age, among others.

Failure 2014
Failure 2014 | Source

''Stuck On You'' by Failure

Catherine Wheel

From across the pond in England, Catherine Wheel featured the talents of singer-songwriter Rob Dickinson, was is actually cousins with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden. The similarities stop there as Catherine Wheel and Maiden have nothing in common besides sharing some bloodlines. Although perhaps The Wheel does have some metal moxie as the name of the group was devised from a mid evil torture device. Nonetheless, Catherine Wheel had a great run of albums throughout the nineties and especially the early part. The song ''Black Metallic'' always had a little Oasis vibe to me in feel and the album Chrome is not to be slept on. Essential nineties alternative.

''Black Metallic'' by Catherine Wheel

Hum

The band Hum made a breakthrough in 1995 with the single ''Stars'' off of the You'd Prefer An Astronaut album, but what is sometimes referred to as the lost album of the nineties and I agree, was the Downward Is Heavenward album in 1998, which saw the group further refine it's driving rhythms over droning guitars dynamic they did so well. The band has reformed for many one-off shows through the years, and continue to pop up here and there for some gigs.

''Stars'' by Hum

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    • profile image

      Jesse 5 months ago

      Failure are probably my favorite. All 4 albums are fantastic.

    • profile image

      J. Dobson 5 months ago

      Failure is one of my all time favorite bands. Magnified is a great album. Front to back. I don't think I'd skip one song!! Surprised that Fugazi didn't make the list, yet again they started in the late 80's

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      dave miller 6 months ago

      It's hard to vote which is my Favorite. I love Hum, Catherine wheel, Sugar, School of fish, and Sunny Day Real Estate all the same.

    • bluesradio profile image

      Marc Lee 6 months ago from Durham, NC

      Have you checked out the alternative rock scene out of NC over the last two decades...Groups like Megafaun, Superchunk, Midtown Dickens, Hammer No More Fingers, Two Dollar Pistols and I was Totally Destroying It just to name a few.....

    • simplehappylife profile image

      sannwi 6 months ago

      Great article :) as far as I'm concerned, the greatest times in music was the mid 60's to the early (even some late) 70's and of course, the 90's! I think we're due for a new revolution in rock 'n roll soon :)

    • LiveMusicLoverLyn profile image

      Lyn 6 months ago from England

      Interesting - I'd not knowingly heard of any of them, so thanks