Grunge is in the air this year, as 2019 is the 25th anniversary of the end of grunge's reign. 1994 was really the last year that grunge was the dominant style of alternative rock, and, sadly, it was the year that we lost Kurt Cobain. Rolling Stone listed the greatest grunge albums of all time this year for that anniversary, and they also asked some iconic grunge artists what their favorite grunge albums are. Though grunge as a phenomenon is long in the rearview, its influence has lived on and there are a lot of modern artists keeping grungy sounds alive today. For just a small sample, we've made a list of 10 2010s albums by modern artists that '90s grunge fans need to hear.
You may already know these albums, but if you don't -- and you still play your old Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and Hole CDs -- you might wanna check them out. As far as the definition of "modern" goes, most of these artists are fairly new, though a couple have been around a little longer. They're all from the 21st century, they're all from after the grunge (and post-grunge) era died down, and they're all from artists who are active today. They're also all mostly from punk, punk-ish metal acts, or indie rock. Grunge evolved out of punk, which often rejected the sounds of ’70s classic rock and ’80s mainstream metal, but the post-grunge era brought about countless popular bands who were being called “grunge,” but sounded more like the bands that grunge-era bands were rejecting. It’s been refreshing to see a new generation of bands use artists like Nirvana and Hole as gateways to the punk and indie rock bands that those bands were inspired by, and write music that honors the influence of stuff like Pixies, Sonic Youth, and Dinosaur Jr through the lens of '90s radio rock fandom. This new crop of bands isn't really referred to as "grunge," but their music scratches the same itch as a lot of those grunge-era hits while also acting as a corrective to, like, Puddle of Mudd.
Check out the list of albums (in no real order) below. What are some modern grungy bands we missed?
Cloud Nothings - Attack On Memory (2012)
Cloud Nothings weren't the first modern-day band to bring aggression back to indie rock, but their 2012 album Attack on Memory was sort of the moment where the doors flung wide open for indie bands to make music like this again. They got in the studio with Steve Albini (who recorded Nirvana's In Utero, Pixies' Surfer Rosa, PJ Harvey's Rid of Me, and much more), and they banged out this noisy, rough-around-the-edges mix of alternative rock and post-hardcore that had strong roots in the music of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Sunny Day Real Estate, and other '80s/'90s alternative acts. (Cloud Nothings also take a ton of influence from Wipers, one of Kurt Cobain's favorite bands.) The heavy but bare-bones sound of Attack on Memory has a lot in common with In Utero, which is especially clear on "No Sentiment," where Dylan Baldi dishes out a Kurt Cobain-like, note-bending guitar riff over Jason Gerycz's pounding drum fills which are about as Dave Grohl as it gets. With Albini getting Gerycz a similar snare crack to the one he got Dave Grohl on In Utero, it helps this song fill the Nirvana void even more. But Attack On Memory doesn't just succeed because it feels like In Utero all over again. Like Kurt had, Dylan Baldi's got a distinct songwriting style, and a way of blending raw, dissonant music with a true pop sensibility. Slightly more pop punk-ish songs like "Stay Useless" and "Fall In" became minor indie rock "hits" but they sound like they could've been real hits in the grunge era. Like the best grunge songs, they're angsty and gritty, but there's a pop song trying to fight its way out from underneath all the fuzz.
Citizen - Everybody Is Going To Heaven (2015)
After a more melodic debut, Ohio post-hardcore band Citizen went full In Utero on their 2015 sophomore album Everybody Is Going To Heaven. Not only do the songs on Everybody Is Going To Heaven sound a lot like the songs on that Nirvana album -- down to the Steve Albini-esque production (courtesy of Will Yip) -- but Everybody Is Going To Heaven was alienating in the way that In Utero was too. Citizen are a pretty big band in their scene, and I don't think anyone saw this heavy, noisy album coming, the same way fans of "Teen Spirit" probably didn't predict "Milk It." On Heaven, Citizen also channel grunge-adjacent post-hardcore greats The Jesus Lizard (especially on "Stain," which sounds more than a little like "Then Comes Dudley"), and as with the above-mentioned Cloud Nothings album, Citizen can't help but write pop songs no matter how heavy this album gets. Citizen went back to a more pop punk/emo-ish sound after this album, but Everybody Is Going To Heaven remains a classic of modern grunge-inspired music, as well as an anomaly within the modern post-hardcore scene.
Thou - Rhea Sylvia EP (2018)
Thou are technically a metal band, but they make their love of grunge very known. They've done an entire Nirvana cover set, they've covered Soundgarden, and they talk openly about their love of grunge. Though much of Thou's music is probably too abrasive for a list like this (but excellent in its own right), their 2018 EP Rhea Sylvia is a must-hear for '90s grunge fans and modern metal fans alike. The grunge influence on their original music can sometimes be subtle, but it's overt on Rhea Sylvia, particularly on the song "Deepest Sun." "Deepest Sun" sees Thou putting clean vocals in the forefront, and embracing a howl that Chris Cornell and Layne Staley fans will find very familiar. The song's got the quiet-LOUD formula that grunge bands often embraced, with verses on the tender side and a chorus that explodes in the way '90s grunge hits often did. It sounds like it could've dominated the radio 25 years ago, and it sounds fresh and awesome today too.
Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018)
Courtney Barnett has embraced lots of rock eras and subgenres in her music, from '60s folk and psychedelia to '90s slacker rock and beyond, and as especially heard on her great 2018 album Tell Me How You Really Feel, some grunge too. For one, the album features guest appearances by Kim Deal of Pixies/Breeders and her sister/Breeders bandmate Kelley, and even if the Pixies and The Breeders weren't necessarily grunge themselves, they were close enough and they influenced some of the genre's biggest bands. The whole album isn't grunge, and its catchiest song ("City Looks Pretty") is decidedly more indie rock than alternative rock, but a couple other songs see Courtney embracing the rawer, heavier sounds of grunge. "Nameless, Faceless" gets pretty close in the chorus, and then the next song "I'm Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch" goes full grunge. After opening with swelling feedback and a moody, somber vocal, Courtney raises her voice to a yell and then brings in the kind of dirty punk-grunge riff that plenty of actual grunge legends probably wish they wrote. The riff blends bash-your-head-against-the-wall power chords and messy string bends, and it's as badass as anything on Sub Pop 200. It's also got the kind of blaring, intentionally sloppy guitar solo that grunge bands often favored, and the kind of gritty, untamed shouts that they'd deliver. It's very '90s, but Courtney is a true original. So as much as it scratches that '90s grunge itch, it also doesn't sound like anyone but Courtney Barnett.
Dilly Dally - Sore (2015)
Dilly Dally basically sound like Nirvana and Pixies/Breeders in a blender, so much so that their 2015 single "Desire" may contain some exact elements of "Where Is My Mind," but even if they aren't the most original band in the world, they do this kind of thing super well. "Desire" is the first song on their debut album Sore, and it's followed by a bunch of other songs that follow a similar formula and make you wanna flail your body around every time you hear them. The songwriting is familiar, but Katie Monks has a voice that never really sounds like anyone else. She favors poppy chord progressions in the vein of "Where Is My Mind" and "Gigantic," but she's got the scratchy, gravelly, pack-a-day grit of Kurt and Courtney. It's the perfect kind of cathartic, melodic roar for music like this, and Dilly Dally have the kind of pummeling rhythm section that you need if you wanna get crowds of kids moshing and headbanging. Introverted, self-conscious indie rock Dilly Dally is not.
Bully - Feels Like (2015)
Bully took the opposite trajectory of all the original grunge bands: first Bully were on a major label and then they signed to Sub Pop! That probably says more about the current mainstream's treatment of rock than about the quality of Bully's music, because their 2015 debut album Feels Like (Columbia) is still one of the finest grungy albums of the 2010s. Like Dilly Dally, Bully's Alicia Bognanno has that Kurt and Courtney grit in her voice, and though sometimes she wears her influences on her sleeves a bit, she really makes it her own. Her melodies are memorable and never quite sound exactly like any other band, and her lyrics are simple and raw and honest in that '90s grunge way. "I remember my old habits, I remember getting too fucked up and I remember throwing up in your car," she roars on Feels Like opener "I Remember." No poetry or metaphor or anything, but when you hear it come out of her mouth, you just wanna scream it back and share her pain. It's one of a few great songs on Feels Like that sound like they could've fit just fine on KROQ 25 years ago (along with "Reason," "Trying," and "Milkman"). If you snuck one on a grunge playlist today, it'd fit right in.
Torche - Harmonicraft (2012)
Torche frontman Steve Brooks has been an active musician since the '90s as the frontman of Floor and a member of Cavity, and Torche themselves are already 15 years old at this point, but they continue to reinvent themselves and their new albums feel like the work of a modern band, not a band coasting on nostalgia. (Torche are also probably more popular now than Floor and Cavity ever were, so that's part of it too.) They're rooted in sludge metal, which was never very different from grunge in the first place, but unlike most of their peers, Torche write very poppy songs. When you combine that level of poppiness with the weight of a beastly rhythm section, you basically get what the '90s alt-rock movement was all about. And while Torche have lots of great albums, there's a good argument to be made that their poppy side and their heavy side never merged better than on 2012's Harmonicraft. In a world where Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age are still very popular, "Kicking" really should've been a hit, and "Walk It Off" and "Snakes Are Charmed" aren't far behind in terms of ridiculously catchy songs that you can rock the fuck out to. I realize some of the more metal stuff on this list might not be for everyone, but Torche is.
Windhand - Eternal Return (2018)
Windhand's formula has always been part doom, part psychedelia, part grunge, and while early records sounded like Electric Wizard riffs with Alice In Chains vocal melodies trying to fight their way out of the murk, their latest album Eternal Return finally leveled the playing field for Windhand's influences. Unlike other albums on this list, you could probably recommend Windhand to your cool uncle who did acid at Woodstock, but it's got plenty of moments that fans of Seattle grunge will dig too. Because of the doom influence, the songs are still slower and longer than Alice In Chains and Soundgarden, but anyone down with "Would?" or "4th of July" should be able to get down with "Halcyon" or "Grey Garden" or "Red Cloud" or "Diablerie." And when Windhand slow it down, as on the folky "Pilgrim's Rest," it's in that brooding way that Nirvana sounded on MTV Unplugged.
Superheaven - Ours Is Chrome (2015)
Superheaven had been on hiatus but they're playing their first show in two years this May to open one of the shows on Balance & Composure's final tour, and here's to hoping this is the start of more shows, because 2015's Ours Is Chrome remains one of the finest modern albums of its kind. The band made their grunge love clear on their 2013 debut Jar (released when they were still called Daylight), but that album's 2015 followup was even better. They're very much in the sludgy, atmospheric realm of sorta-grunge-but-not-entirely-grunge stuff like Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins, but they've also got the downer energy of Nirvana and the metallic grunge vibes of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains. If you can picture the middle ground between "Outshined" and "Cherub Rock," it'd probably sound something like Superheaven.
Wavves - Afraid of Heights (2013)
Wavves first emerged as one of the leaders of the surfy, beachy, lo-fi rock scene that had a moment around the same time the similarly lazy, hazy chillwave movement did, but even on their slacker-ish 2010 breakthrough King of the Beach you could clearly hear the influence of pop punk giants like blink-182 and Green Day. For King of the Beach's followup, Wavves embraced the polished production of those bands, and they also brought in some angsty Nirvana influence too, making Afraid of Heights the grunge fan's Wavves album of choice. (It's a good one for Weezer fans too.) On a song like "Demon To Lean On," Nathan Williams' voice has clear echoes of fellow snot-nosed Californian Billie Joe Armstrong, but he also stretches out his vowels in a very Kurt Cobain way. He also borrows the Nirvana/Pixies loud-quiet-loud formula for that song, the title track, "That's On Me," and a few others, and you can hear some Cobain vibes on those songs' power chord riffs too. It's also a very grunge album lyrically, not about laziness, fun in the sun, weed and other beachy lo-fi rock themes but about depression and suicidal thoughts ("Demon To Lean On"), a me-against-the-world mentality ("Lunge Forward"), and loneliness ("Afraid of Heights"). Grunge and other '90s alternative rock often resonated so much with the youth because it tapped into those teenage feelings that (at the time) you think no one else understands, and Afraid of Heights does that very same thing.