These days, there’s no shortage of delicious offerings to feed our insatiable hunger for nostalgia. And if you have an appetite for the films, TV shows, and most importantly, the music that made the 1990’s such a distinctive decade, then the options are as endless as the Kevin Costner pseudo-epics Waterworld and The Postman. For those in their mid-to-late 30’s, then it’s a thrill to hear a younger generation of artists placing fresh spins on the most significant musical styles of the Clinton-era. And for those plucky 20-somethings or younger, then some bands will offer an angsty, dreamy, raw, and indie-riffic portal into why that well-meaning uncle of yours—the one that refuses to stop wearing that threadbare Stussy t-shirt—thinks he’s a hell of a lot cooler than he really is. The best artists are able to pump new, life-giving blood into a vintage sound, rather than colorlessly aping Black Francis (or Frank Black for that matter). Just because something sounds as if it could’ve been recorded in the ‘90s doesn’t mean the warm-fuzzies will flood-over. Here are five of our favorite current bands that sound like they could have been from the ‘90s.
Led by vocalist Mish Way, the Canadian thunder-makers in White Lung have had the pedal down since forming in 2006. The group’s most recent punk-centric album, 2014’s Deep Fantasy offers pulverizing Helmet-meets-Hole-meets-Sponge ragers, such as “Wrong Star” and “Drown with the Monster.” The breakneck pacing of each short song doesn’t get in the way of top-notch melody, as there isn’t a note, chord, beat or breath wasted throughout any of this addictive record. White Lung would’ve made Lilith Fair feel like the Vans Warped Tour with its piercing, ringing lead guitar dancing above the kinetic vocals and drums. And speaking of traveling festivals in the 90’s, it’s easy to envision this group as an ideal fit on the funky, eclectic bill of the original Lollapalooza tour when alternative hard-rock, goth, indie, and even gangster rap blended seamlessly.
Truly reviving something and simply rehashing a formulaic style isn’t the same thing by a long shot. Pennsylvania group Superheaven has no qualms with associating themselves with the grunge sound, but that’s putting a needless limitation on this year’s Ours Is Chrome. Taylor Madison and Jake Clark lead foursome with an array of songs successfully reminiscent of the 90’s alt-rock scene. The most infectious song on the record, “I’ve Been Bored,” might well be a Lit tune without the cold sores and trips to the local free clinic, whereas “Blur” is reminiscent of a younger, angrier Cracker. The group’s dual-lead singer approach doesn’t quite reach Temple of the Dog-status, but it works rather well. For those who enjoyed grunge sounds of Gish-era Smashing Pumpkins over the metal-leaning groups such as Alice in Chains, this set of swirling, jangly, and free-wheeling songs is ready for your Mazda Miata’s cassette deck.
One of this year’s best albums could’ve been one of 1995’s best albums as well. The latest from Speedy Ortiz, Foil Deer, is an urgent, unpredictable and hooky album that fills many of the best boxes one might see on a 1990’s band checklist. The album’s opening track, “Good Neck,” is bouncy and distorted—a great interpretation of the kind of indie-rock group from 20 years ago that cashes in when it was time to reunite for major money. It’s impossible to ignore, and not adore, the Weezer, Breeders, and Pavement influences radiating throughout Foil Deer.
Unlike the other bands on this list, this group of dudes (different from a boy band) is made up of musicians that were making great music in their younger days in the 1990’s. Led by Toby Pipes (formerly of Deep Blue Something, which brought us the still-ubiquitous “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in 1995), the members are scattered between Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Brooklyn, and the record actually took a dozen years to finally complete. But Decade of Downtime feels intensely tight, as the album is packed with Creation Records-style dream-pop, Replacements-esque garage wrecking, and a healthy dose of the kind of super melodic alt-rock that would’ve ruled FM dials much in the way Pipes’ old Texas group did for so long.
Since Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas began crafting music as Widowspeak in 2010, the Brooklyn-based duo has reminded many of the Saturday nights when MTV’s 120 Minutes would offer up something on the more atmospheric side of indie—something other than Blur and MC 900 Foot Jesus, not that there’s anything wrong with them. In fact, songs like the title track and “Girls” from the duo’s new album All Yours, pick up wonderfully where the group left off in 2012 with Almanac. These hazy, country-tinged, meandering psych gems would’ve fit snug on any mix tape alongside Mazzy Star and Jesus and Mary Chain, recorded on an actual Memorex black tape, of course.