The '90s were a fun time to grow up, with some great music to enjoy during formative years.
Underrated Indie and Alternative Bands
These great alternative and indie bands from the 1990s are worthy of being remembered or discovered by music fans. This list is not to rank these bands in a particular order, but to showcase the talents of some groups that may have fallen slightly under the radar in their era.
Top 9 Underrated '90s Bands
- Luscious Jackson
- Archers of Loaf
- The Boo Radleys
Read on to learn why they're underrated, watch some music videos, and find a list of 33 more '90s bands to discover or remember.
What's incredible about Superchunk is that they released seven albums throughout the decade of the 1990s, which is just amazing output for any band—really a great feat if you stop and think about it. A bidding war also ensued from the major label vultures looking to capitalize on their indie/alternative sound.
But at the end of the day, Superchunk decided to stick to their guns and to their independent roots, remaining with the original record label they started themselves, Merge Records. I would say it was a good move as the label grew and expanded to include great artists for decades to come, putting out albums by Arcade Fire, Buzzcocks, Dinosaur Jr., and countless others, along with the band's own music, preserving the integrity of the group and defining their own legacy.
What always drew me to Superchunk was the great two-guitar interplay, with both players locking in so well together playing awesome catchy and harmonies and melody. "Driveway to Driveway'' is most likely my favorite Superchunk jam.
''Driveway to Driveway'' by Superchunk
With roots in the Washington D.C punk/hardcore scene, Wool was born from the ashes of Scream when their bassist left and Dave Grohl went on to drum in Nirvana. The two brothers in Scream, Peter and Franz Stahl, went on to form Wool with drummer Peter Moffit (formerly of Government Issue) and Al Bloch (from Concrete Blonde) rounding out the group.
Wool played a heavier, rawer type of alternative which could border on psychedelia in parts. The band's Box Set album, which came out in 1994, failed to create much buzz in spite of being stellar. The group was active from 1990 to '96, and members went on to new projects after breaking up, most notably Franz Stahl replacing Pat Smear in the Foo Fighters.
''B-350'' by Wool
3. Luscious Jackson
Much like Pearl Jam, who paid tribute to NBA basketball star Mookie Blaylock by adopting his name for their early band name, the ladies of Luscious Jackson named their group after the late '60s and early '70s basketball star. Luscious Jackson was formed originally in New York City by Jill Cunniff (vocals, bass) and Gabby Glaser (vocals, guitar), later adding Kate Schellenbach (drums) and Vivian Trimble (keyboards, vocals). Vivian left the group in 1998 and they have remained a three-piece band since.
Kate Schellenbach had some pretty heavy New York City musical roots, serving as the drummer in the original incarnation of the Beastie Boys. The Beasties were also big fans of Luscious Jackson, signing them as the first-ever act on the Grand Royal record label and releasing the debut EP, In Search of Manny (1992). Grand Royal also released Natural Ingredients (1994), Fever In Fever Out (1994) and Electric Honey (1999).
Luscious play a funky, soul-inspired type of music with a hip hop twist, sprinkled with a heavy dose of New York sass. The band disbanded in 2000, but reformed in '11, releasing the album Magic Hour in '13. As of today, the band is still active.
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''Naked Eye'' by Luscious Jackson
4. Archers of Loaf
Formed in 1991 and disbanding 1998, Archers of Loaf had a nice run for a big chunk of the '90s, releasing numerous EPs and four full-length recordings, starting with Icky Mettle, their debut album, in 1993. This album featured the standout track ''Web in Front,'' a great and underrated song of early '90s alternative. Archers of Loaf were from the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, scene along with the also influential Superchunk and Polvo.
The Archers' early sound can be described as poppy punk at times, with emo leanings before the term even existed (I would say they are a pioneer of that early sound and genre). They would also change it up pretty drastically, throwing in disjointed noise rock and angular riffs sometimes within the same song and making it sound seamless. The Archers expanded on this sound further on the 1995 album Vee Vee.
The year 1996 saw the group delve into a more commercial and accessible sound, with upfront and profound studio production and distribution from Elektra Records with the All The Nation's Airports album, which to me is one of the most underrated albums of all the nineties. ''Scenic Pastures'' is a standout song and probably my favorite by the band.
White Trash Heros was the last offering from the Archers which was released in 1998 with the group calling it a day that same year. In 2011, the guys gave it another go, playing some reunion gigs and releasing a live documentary, What Did You Expect? in 2012. In 2020, they released a new song, "Raleigh Days"—their first since 1998.
''Scenic Pastures'' by Archers of Loaf
My first exposure to Chavez was when the song ''Break Up Your Band'' was on the Beavis and Butt-Head show on MTV. Creator Mike Judge must have had his ear to the underground, because other than the show being a cynical (and true) take on teenage life of the time, the show actually exposed me to some pretty damn fine bands—along with the hours spent at my local music shop.
Anyway, Chavez was one such band. I was really drawn into jangly but tight guitar playing, along with the Bob Mould–sounding vocals in spots. Gone Glimmering (1995) was the band's debut full-length, followed by my favorite Ride the Fader (1996). The year 2006 saw a big renewed interest in Chavez with the Better Days Will Haunt You compilation release. In 2017, the group released an EP of new material.
Matt Sweeney of Chavez also played in Guided by Voices and the short-lived band Zwan with Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins).
''Top Pocket Man'' by Chavez
6. The Boo Radleys
An interesting Brit-pop band was The Boo Radleys, named after the character in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It is another band that—when the shoegaze scene bands became more popular—got left behind somewhat, despite a more than worthy sound.
The band was active from 1988, releasing their first album, Ichabod and I in 1990. They released five more albums throughout the course of the '90s before calling it a day in '99. They eventually reunited in 2021 and are definitely an overlooked group worth discovering if you missed out the first time around.
''Skyscraper'' by The Boo Radleys
Polvo hailed from the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, indie/alternative music scene along with Archers of Loaf and Superchunk. A few of the Polvo guys even went to high school with Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, whose Merge Records released a majority of Polvo's material.
Polvo played a unique blend of music which featured very disjointed and dissonant guitars with Middle Eastern musical influences as well at times. The group has also been called pioneers of math rock, with complex riffs and song structures.
The group was active from 1990 to '98 and then reunited in 2008. In 2009 the band released the album In Prism, their first offering in 12 years, and they soon followed that up with Siberia in 2013.
''Vibracobra'' by Polvo
A name like Sparklehorse one may conjure up images of a full-on band, but this is not the case, as it was the brainchild of singer-songwriter Mark Linkous. The music can be described as soft and delicate at times, with Beatles-type influence and harmonies within the soulful, heartfelt music.
The first Sparklehorse album was Vivadixiessubmarinetransmissionplot, released in 1995. While touring in support of the album in Europe, Mark took a nearly lethal dose of Valium, alcohol, and heroin and almost died, leaving him wheelchair-bound for six months while he recovered from numerous surgeries.
After the recovery, Sparklehorse came out with Good Morning Spider in 1998. 2001 saw the release of It's A Wonderful Life, which saw Sparklehorse expand its sound, and also had guest appearances from Tom Waits and PJ Harvey. It is considered one of the peak works of Sparklehorse.
A few more projects followed, Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain in 2006, and Dark Night of the Soul in 2010. Both works had collaborations with Danger Mouse. Unfortunately, Mark Linkous took his own life in 2010.
''Sunshine'' by Sparklehorse
Ride was formed in Oxford, England, in 1988, but started releasing music in 1990. They were an important band in the early Brit-pop shoegaze scene, being compared to My Bloody Valentine with a slightly more accessible sound, perhaps. However, despite a great sound and an original style, the band really failed to catch on fire or receive the praise of some of their counterparts.
After they broke up in 1996, Andy Bell went on to play bass in Oasis. In 2003, Ride released a box set called Waves, and they ultimately reformed in 2014, releasing albums of new material in 2017 and 2019.
''Vapour Trail'' by Ride
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© 2017 The Write Life
Gel on September 12, 2019:
Olá!! Sorry my english, I'm from Brazil. It's been a long time since I've been looking for the name of a song that only played on an extinct radio, I never found out the name or the band, the only reference is the first chords that resemble Kinks "Lola", it's a very long song too, I believe that she is from the 90s, it was during this time that I spent listening to her on the radio
Stephen on October 20, 2017:
One of my favourites from the 90's is Course of Empire.
Their self-titled album is best listened to from start to finish, preferably at high volume while driving at night. Apparently, their live shows were pretty epic!
Alex Veylupek on August 11, 2017:
Thrilled to see Ride coming in at second (as of now) in the Opinion Poll. Certainly the most original and influential band on the list and, by far, my favorite.
jwalkerinboots on July 07, 2017:
I totally agree with most of the bands on this list. I would have Superchunk second only to the band that you are neglecting to put on this list, Chainsaw Kittens.
joseph moreno on June 10, 2017:
three bands on here have/had releases on Merge records(great label) but still alot more unknown bands from era. POLVO is the best on the list, didn't tour enough/sell enough merchandise but their writing was unique together w/ two albums engineered by Bob Weston(shellac) that sound amazing. Their last Merge records release was barely noticed(end of 2013) went un-noticed as their was no touring involved/interviews/press releases, etc.. that even sounds like a great mix/production.