Grunge! Britpop! Rave!
The ’90s will forever be remembered as a decade that was great for music.
On one side of the Atlantic you had Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins bringing the alternative rock scene to the mainstream, and closer to home we had Oasis and Blur chart-battling it out to a backdrop of Cool Britannia and a pop chart filled with certified bangers.
But what about the albums that fell by the wayside, cult classics that are still enjoyed to this day by a select few?
It’s time to reintroduce these LPs to a new audience – here are 45 forgotten ’90s albums you need in your collection right now*.
* And if you make it to the very end you’ll be rewarded with our Spotify playlist
They Might Be Giants – Flood
Released: 15 January 1990
Standout track: Birdhouse In Your Soul
TMBG’s two Johns (Flansburgh and Linell) reach for the nerd-rock crown and grab it with both hands on Flood, their best-selling and most recognisable record in a 33-year career.
Fugazi – Repeater
Released: 19 April 1990
Standout track: Repeater
Fugazi’s debut LP brings about the distinctive post-hardcore aesthetic that would go on to shape the band’s – and indeed, the roster of frontman Ian Mackaye’s record label Dischord – grinding punk sound for years to come.
Ride – Nowhere
Released: 15 October 1990
Standout track: Vapour Trail
Perennially overlooked shoegaze influencers Ride released their first album proper (after a handful of early EPs) in 1990, and went on to become the unlikely poster boys of a guitar-noise generation. Now they’re back, and you can see them perform Nowhere on tour in October.
Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona
Released: 18 February 1991
Standout track: Two Step
Throwing Muses’ fourth album would mark an end to the band’s high-quality early years, with songwriting heavyweight Tanya Donelly leaving the band shortly after its release to form Belly (who may have an album on this list of their own).
Dinosaur Jr. – Green Mind
Released: 19 February 1991
Standout track: The Wagon
Dinosaur Jr.’s first album of the ’90s would turn out to be one of their best, despite: 1. bassist Lou Barlow having been unceremoniously booted from the band three years prior 2. being released on a major label. Drummer Murph only features on three tracks, so this is basically a J Mascis solo album.
Slint – Spiderland
Released: 27 March 1991
Standout track: Good Morning, Captain
Slint’s last album of two is considered a math-rock classic, with no two songs taking the same direction as they flit between time signatures, dynamics and textures. Something of a challenging listen the first time around, once it all falls in to place you’ll be penning your own spoken-word noise-rock.
Chapterhouse – Whirlpool
Released: 1 April 1991
Standout track: Mesmerise
With the double barrage of shoegaze and Madchester baggy flooding the music scene at the start of the ’90s, it’s no surprise that Chapterhouse were often overlooked. Deftly spanning the two sub-genres, the Reading band present brilliantly washy guitar music you can actually dance to.
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine – 30 Something
Standout track: Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere
Two guitars and a drum machine, and a heap of social comment, Carter USM always had something to say, and a unique way of saying it.
Pale Saints – In Ribbons
Released: 23 March 1992
Standout track: Throwing Back The Apples
Leeds’ premier dream-pop outfit deliver a classic jangle-pop sound on In Ribbons, their second LP.
L7 – Bricks Are Heavy
Released: 14 April 1992
Standout track: Pretend We’re Dead
Riding high on the world’s new found love of grunge off the back of Nirvana’s success, ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ saw L7 become the poster-girls of the genre, and subsequently rocketed the Butch Vig produced Bricks Are Heavy to the top of the Billboard Heatseekers chart.
Pavement – Slanted & Enchanted
Released: 20 April 1992
Standout track: Here
Stephen Malkmus and co.’s five albums as Pavement are all more than worth your time, but their 1992 debut carries an undeniable lo-fi charm that’s perhaps lost under the production of later works. Malkmus chuckles his lines on opener ‘Summer Babe’, and you instantly know you’ve found your new favourite band.
Sonic Youth – Dirty
Released: 21 July 1992
Standout track: Sugar Kane
Goo saw the Yoof’s first foray into major label territory in 1990, and Dirty continued the brilliance further. A careful shaping of unstructured noise into structured song that has since gone unmatched, Kurt Cobain once told Kim Gordon he wanted Nirvana’s third album to sound like this. “That’s a bad idea” was the honest response.
Babes In Toyland – Fontanelle
Released: 11 August 1992
Standout track: Bruise Violet
Minneapolis seems to be a breeding ground of musical fury and rage if this record is anything to go by; a furious assault led by frontwoman Kat Bjelland’s wild wide eyes.
Belly – Star
Released: 25 January 1993
Standout track: Feed The Tree
After leaving former band Throwing Muses, Tanya Donelly went on to form Belly who, catapulted by an MTV that was actually good and a nationwide fondness for alternative music, became more successfully than her previous band ever had been. Off the back of lead single ‘Feed The Tree’, it’s easy to see why.
Swirlies – Blonder Tongue Audio Baton
Released: 26 March 1993
Standout track: Jeremy Parker
Swirlies are quite simply an amazing band, effortlessly melding the frayed chaos of shoegaze with the delicate guitar lines of indie-rock. The result is something that flits between howling guitar maelstroms and carefully plucked slower moments. It’s surprising they never found a bigger audience, and 1996’s second LP They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons is also well worth a listen.
Polvo – Today’s Active Lifestyles
Released: 19 April 1993
Standout track: Lazy Comet
The Chapel Hill indie-rock scene of the 1990s is one of those great untapped scenes that would make an amazing compilation CD or two if someone actually bothered to go back and document it all. Polvo are one of the forebears, who – despite their protestations against the term – would help define ‘math-rock’ almost single-handedly.
Slowdive – Souvlaki
Released: 17 May 1993
Standout track: When The Sun Hits
If you prefer your shoegaze a bit more delicate than the wonky noise-attacks of My Bloody Valentine et al, you could do worse than pick up a copy of Slowdive’s Souvlaki. Absolutely blissful stuff.
Unwound – Fake Train
Released: 7 July 1993
Standout track: Kantina
Discordant post-hardcore types Unwound go all out on second LP Fake Train, before later releases would see them reel in the angst slightly in favour of a more considered (though no less brilliant) approach.
Swervedrive – Mezcal Head
Released: 5 August 1993
Standout track: Last Train To Satansville
Completing the amazing shoegaze trifecta that was under Creation Records (featuring Ride and Slowdive) in the early ’90s, Swervedriver were fortunate enough in that they really took off in America. Their ‘gaze’ leant more towards a grunge vibe at times, so it’s easy to see why a country enamoured with Cobain would take them in, and Mezcal Head remains one of their finest works.
The Breeders – Last Splash
Released: 31 August 1993
Standout track: Cannonball
Formed in 1990 by Kim Deal (of the Pixies fame – not included here because who could forget the Pixies?!) and Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly, the Breeders crafted some of the most interesting indie-rock of the ’90s.
Archers Of Loaf – Icky Mettle
Released: 23 November 1993
Standout track: Web In Front
Another Chapel Hill favourite, at this point that should be all we need to say. Slightly more emotive than your average indie-rockers, rumblings of some new material from AoL have gotten us all excited. This brilliant debut is where it all began.
Hole – Live Through This
Released: 12 April 1994
Standout track: Violet
Released just four days after the death of her husband Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and Hole ushered in a slightly more radio-friendly sound to their previously overtly aggressive style with Live Through This. The result is one of the most critically acclaimed alternative rock albums of the 1990s.
Superchunk – Foolish
Released: 18 April 1994
Standout track: Driveway to Driveway
Another great alumni of the Chapel Hill indie scene, Superchunk blended elements of straight forward indie-rock with melodic moments lifted from emo (the proper, ’90s stuff) to come up with something that could be partying hard one minute and lamenting opportunities missed the next. All wrapped up in some expert musicianship.
Lush – Split
Released: 19 June 1994
Standout track: Desire Lines
Before Lush began to join the Britpop ranks towards the tail end of their career (see 1996 single ‘Ladykillers’), they were one of the very first bands to attract the term ‘shoegaze’. This third LP sees them in slightly more ethereal form, balancing expertly between washy jangle-pop and the kind of stuff that’d get them stints on Top of the Pops.
Sebadoh – Bakesale
Released: 23 August 1994
Standout track: Not Too Amused
When Lou Barlow was booted from Dinosaur Jr., he had his other, arguably superior band to fall back on in the form of Sebadoh. Bakesale marks their finest moment; the most fully formed record of their career and an important snapshot of the lo-fi scene which raged at the beginning of the ’90s.
Veruca Salt – American Thighs
Released: 27 September 1994
Standout track: Seether
This debut album from Chicago’s Veruca Salt comes with more of a radio-friendly sheen than that of Babes In Toyland, but carries no less fury just under the surface. Big, crunching guitars and catchy hooks abound!
Shellac – At Action Park
Released: 24 October 1994
Standout track: A Minute
Steve Albini was already an established producing talent by the time the first full-length LP of Shellac came about (he’d manned the desk on Nirvana’s In Utero just a year earlier). But At Action Park sees the Californian lead his band through brash, mechanical post-punk with the kind of gritty overlay he’s famed for.
Helium – The Dirt Of Luck
Released: April 1995
Standout track: All The X’s Have Wings
Helium were a band that hailed from Boston and were fronted by Mary Timony, who would go on to participate in riot-grrrl supergroup Wild Flag and form new-age rock ‘n’ rollers Ex Hex. Ash Bowie of Polvo also joined the band on bass, but most importantly, they put out a couple of wildly accomplished albums. Their 1995 debut just pips 97’s The Magic City to our list.
Thurston Moore – Psychic Hearts
Released: 10 May 1995
Standout track: Feathers
While Kim Gordon’s pregnancy put Sonic Youth activity on hold, Thurston Moore kept busy by recording his first solo album ‘proper’ in 1995. Sure, he’d put out records before, but this was the first to feature actual songs as opposed to improvised guitar-noise freakouts. Featuring some of the best riffs in the Sonic Youth family (‘See Through Play-Mate’), this one is well worth a go.
Portastatic – Slow Note From A Sinking Ship
Released: 20 June 1995
Standout track: San Andreas
When not breaking hearts with Superchunk, frontman Mac McCaughan was doing similar things with Portastatic, which started simply as a solo project before evolving into a fully formed band. Their records often flit between genres, but Slow Note From A Sinking Ship sticks most rigidly to indie-rock, and so is perhaps the best place to start for new fans.
Echobelly – On
Released: September 1995
Standout track: Great Things
Under the shadow of the Britpop giants like Blur and Oasis, there was a whole seam of exciting bands who didn’t just deal in cigarettes and alcohol. Echobelly are one such band, and this second album was the moment they received the critical praise they deserved with a couple of big singles (‘Great Things’ and ‘King of the Kerb’).
Sleeper – The It Girl
Released: 6 May 1996
Standout track: Nice Guy Eddie
Another band to bubble just below the laddish surface of Britpop, Sleeper did away with all the hubris in favour of a classier approach.
Weezer – Pinkerton
Released: 24 September 1996
Standout track: El Scorcho
To say Weezer’s 1996 sophomore effort is a ‘forgotten’ album is a little off, being as it is one if the best (if not THE best) example of the greatness 90s indie-rock had to offer. But, it’s so good how could we not include it here? End to end bangers and not a duff track in sight, Pinkerton just pips the Blue Album as Rivers and co.’s finest moment and one of the best LPs ever created.
Built To Spill – Perfect From Now On
Released: 28 January 1997
Standout track: I Would Hurt A Fly
Forming in 1992, Idaho indie-rockers Built To Spill would go on to release eight studio albums, including their latest Untethered Moon released earlier this year. But it’s their third album Perfect From Now On where their whimsical formula really hits a sweet spot, dabbling in more expansive song structures and even waltz time (‘Velvet Waltz’).
Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out
Released: 8 April 1997
Standout track: Dig Me Out
Sleater-Kinney reformed earlier this year and proved that they’re still kicking it harder than anyone else. Seriously, listen to the energy of 97’s Dig Me Out and this year’s No Cities To Love and you’ll see little to no let up between the two. This third album is the finest record the band put out in the ’90s.
Ween – The Mollusk
Released: 24 June 1997
Standout track: The Mollusk
Longstanding weirdo-rockers Ween have never been ones to easily pigeon-hole, and we’re sure that’s just how they like it. This multi-genre concept album with a dark, nautical theme probably won’t do much to help you get a better grip on them, but it’s a great listen nonetheless.
Free Kitten – Sentimental Education
Released: 23 September 1997
Standout track: Top 40
Thurston Moore’s already had his turn in the side-project spotlight, and now it’s the turn of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. Free Kitten also features Pavement’s Mark Ibold on bass, and this second LP is as varied and haphazard as you’d expect.
Mogwai – Mogwai Young Team
Released: 21 October 1997
Standout track: Mogwai Fear Satan
By now, Mogwai are an established (and very loud!) force in post-rock, and one of Scotland’s greatest musical exports. Back in 1997, these fresh-faced Glaswegians were unknown to the world. So they released one of 1997’s most thrillingly loud albums to announce themselves. They’ve not looked back since.
Deerhoof – The Man, The King, The Girl
Released: 28 October 1997
Standout track: Polly Bee
The fractured avant-rock of Deerhoof seems to get weirder with every new album release. So cast your mind back to a time where their debut album was a (fairly) standard affair. It still takes some getting your head around, but it’s a great way to ease yourself in.
Autoclave – Autoclave
Standout track: I’ll Take You Down
Technically not an album in its own right, but a compilation of two Autoclave EPs launched earlier in the decade (1990’s Go Far and 91’s Autoclave), this release serves just as well as a full LP would.
At The Drive-In – In/Casino/Out
Released: 18 August 1998
Standout track: Transatlantic Foe
Long before ATDI’s Cedric was making headlines with his erratic on-stage behaviour, his band were releasing some of the greatest post-hardcore records of the tail end of the ’90s. Actually, we’re sure there were just as many objects heading towards the heads of audience members back in 1998. Still, brilliant album.
Placebo – Without You I’m Nothing
Released: 12 October 1998
Standout track: Every You Every Me
1996’s self-titled debut may be the most atonally pleasing (if you’re into that kind of thing), but Without You I’m Nothing was the moment Placebo really found their footing and started delivering their indie-rock with a side order of festival slaying choruses.
Idlewild – Hope Is Important
Released: 19 October 1998
Standout track: When I Argue I See Shapes
It may feature a bit too much of frontman Roddy Woomble putting on an American accent, but it’s still a must listen for fans of wiry indie-rock, and a great introduction to one of Scotland’s finest ever bands. And make sure you also check out their blistering six-track Captain EP, released earlier the same year.
Seafood – Messenger In The Camp
Released: November 1998
Standout track: Scorch Comfort
Seafood’s aping of the Sonic Youth sound is extremely welcome in our book, and this scratchy debut mini-album is where it all became. Rough around the edges and recorded on the cheap, this is the sound of a band making a racket just for the hell of it.
Llama Farmers – Dead Letter Chorus
Standout track: Get The Keys And Go
Hailing from London, Llama Farmers tried their hand at getting a grunge revival going in the late ’90s with little to no success. That’s not to say their debut is any less full of tunes though, and Dead Letter Chorus is worth a nostalgic listen.