25 Underrated Albums From 1991

1991

1991 was a seminal year in music history.

Here are 25 underrated gems from perhaps the best musical year in modern memory.

Tad – 8 Way Santa

Tad was really the quintessential grunge band. Anyone could identify with them. I mean, Cornell was a golden god, Nirvana was so damn cool, Pearl Jam was stadium-sized, Alice in Chains was metal tastic, Mudhoney was all sarcastic, and Melvins were (and are) weird as fuck. Tad was a band of four bozos playing down tuned, sludgy but melodic tunes. Nothing too fancy. The everyman grunge band. 8 Way Santa is the group’s second album and sees them enlist Butch Vig to add some sheen to their chug. He polishes the sound up a touch but the record still sounds like it was recorded in a swamp. ‘Jinx’ is a banger. – Jamie Coughlan

Fugazi – Steady Diet of Nothing 

This record from seminal post hardcore chaps Fugazi is often discarded as their least memorable effort. The group’s canon is so powerful that even if it is their least accomplished record, it is still one of the best records of the ’90s. Plus the title is inspired by Bill Hicks. The album is quite sparse in relation to their other albums, but this adds a focus that is sometimes missing from later albums like Red Medicine (1995) and End Hits (1998). The band’s use of space on this album is essential. Songs don’t just pummel and attack, they swirl and hypnotise. An approach that they pioneered here and perfected on The Argument (2001). – Jamie Coughlan

Screaming Trees – Uncle Anesthesia

Alt rock quartet Screaming Trees are better known for Sweet Oblivion (1992) and Dust (1996), but Uncle Anesthesia is where they really started to come into their own. Benefitting from more professional production courtesy of Terry Date and Chris Cornell, and financing from their recent signing to major label Epic Records, the group were able to begin to come close to achieving their swirling, hypnotic, and meaty sound. ‘Bed of Roses’ is the highlight here, showcasing Mark Lanegan’s world weary vocals. Multi-percussionist Barrett Martin joined later in 1991, which enabled the band to take it to the next level. – Jamie Coughlan

Dinosaur Jr. – Green Mind

The fourth album from fuzzy Massachusetts outfit Dinosaur Jr. is pretty much a solo album for bandleader J Mascis. When the album was recorded bassist Lou Barlow had buggered off to focus on his lo-fi project Sebadoh and drummer Murph only appears on three tracks. As a result, Green Mind is often seen as the beginning of the band’s decline, leading to their break up later in the ’90s. However, in hindsight, the album is chock full of damn catchy rock songs and actually benefits from a cleaner production style. – Jamie Coughlan

Smashing Pumpkins – Gish

An album unlike any other in the Pumpkins’ canon. Gish is hugely indebted to psychedelia, sporting swirling guitars and a hazy, druggy atmosphere. There’s still plenty of fuzzy guitar though. ‘I Am One’ is a blast. For most bands this could be a career highlight, but Corgan and co. went on to have a pretty damn stellar ’90s. Although the less said about the last twenty years, the better. Ah well, we can always crank this up and remember the ecstatic beauty of early Pumpkins. – Jamie Coughlan

Green Day – Kerplunk

Green Day get some guff for feeding the over-saturation of pop punk in the late ’90s and early ’00s and for churning out a succession of pretty damn terrible albums over the last fifteen or so years. But, at one time, they knocked out fun, humorous, human, and plain excellent pop punk. On Kerplunk they pretty much perfect their self-deprecating early sound. Dookie was bigger, but this has an endearingly raw and homespun quality that the trio have unfortunately lost. – Jamie Coughlan

Unsane – Unsane 

From Whores to METZ there’s about a million noise rock bands who owe a damn lot to Unsane and their self titled album. On their debut the band take the cacophonous sounds of Big Black, Sonic Youth, and Swans, and marry it with a more direct and immediate approach. The result is a terrifying but accessible aural assault. Overall the iconic group released eight albums of equally awesome buzzsaw albums before calling it a day in 2019. – Jamie Coughlan

Sebadoh – III 

In 1989 Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow was asked to leave the band by J Mascis. Luckily, Lou had his side project Sebadoh to fall back on. While Sebadoh had punky and raucous moments, the music was definitely more sensitive and twee than Dinosaur Jr.’s. III is probably Sebadoh’s best release. A lo-fi and beautiful album, it showcases Lou’s rather excellent songwriting chops which had been unfortunately stifled by Mascis’ dominance in Dinosaur Jr. – Jamie Coughlan

Bikini Kill – Revolution Girl Style Now

Bikini Kill gave a nasty and bloody birth to riot grrrl in their debut cassette demo, Revolution Girl Style Now. Through provocative song titles that flipped typical pop anthems on their heads and lyrics full of both self-loathing and pride, Bikini Kill told the scene what it was really like to be a woman. Check out lyrics for ‘Daddy’s L’il Girl’; “Daddy’s girl don’t wanna be/ His whore no more …/ Didn’t know I’d have to lose so much/ For daddy’s love.” As the demo’s title states, Bikini Kill started their own revolution in the anarchic DIY punk scene. They told the scene that punk was feminine and inclusive, but also to go fuck itself. – Emma Laurent

Superchunk – No Pocky for Kitty

No Pocky for Kitty is the sophomore album of DIY pioneers Superchunk. The album itself doesn’t stick out in Superchunk’s extensive discography. However, it is a necessary influence for all teen punk to follow. No Pocky for Kitty showcases Superchunk’s potential for growth in the tightness of their sound compared to their self-titled debut album. If Superchunk’s work is a beautiful, angsty, Chapel Hill pine, then No Pocky for Kitty is the tree’s flourishing root system. – Emma Laurent

Screeching Weasel – My Brain Hurts

With one of many breakups already in the books, Screeching Weasel came back together under Ben Weasel’s condition that the band produce more Ramones-inspired tracks; hence, the band churned out My Brain Hurts. The album is a dazzle in classic punk chord structure, that while simple, creates the traditional jump-a-long bop kids crave at shows. The band’s arrangement of ‘I Can See Clearly’ stemmed a fun custom of punk bands covering oldies, as well as inspired a new generation of pop-punk vocal mixing, clean bass lines racing fast drums, and perfect guitar flicks. – Emma Laurent

Pixies – Trompe le Monde

Trompe le Monde is the last album before the original Pixies’ line-up parted ways, the most underrated of their early albums, and my favorite. It stands out from the previous three. There is a terrifying anger in Black Francis’ vocals that sails over the band’s intricate licks and signature start-stop tempos. While the Pixies’ noise-pop cacophony is more level in this album, the tension is palpable in every bass line, drum kick, and chord progression. It is clear that something is brewing right under the surface, ready to fuck shit up. – Emma Laurent

NOFX – Ribbed

Ribbed is NOFX’s third album out of an infamous growing catalogue. It’s notable for the band’s inaugural commitment to harmonies, which has become a part of the standard NOFX sound. The album is funny, trite, and Fat Mike is adorably obnoxious in his usual style. The songs’ subjects are semi-veiled compared to later albums, but if you listen closely, they have the same ironic and logical point of view, with arguments fit to go head to head with your parole officer. Each song is an ode of love and hate to LA and insane guitar solos. If there is one word to describe NOFX over the decades, it’s consistent. – Emma Laurent

Violent Femmes – Why Do Birds Sing

Why Do Birds Sing is the fifth studio album by the Milwaukee quartet. It also marks the last album with drummer Victor DeLorenzo. Highlights include DeLorenzo’s combination of brushes, rimshots, and cajon slapping, rockabilly baselines that shine, and Gordon Gano’s lazy and sexy yowl. The band’s cover of Culture Club’s ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ twists the drab song into a crooning flamenco. Album favorite: ‘American Music.’ – Emma Laurent

The Jesus Lizard – Goat

The Jesus Lizard seemed to have existed in a genre all their own. They refused to adhere to the rigidity often associated with hardcore while being able to deliver weird angular music. David Yow grabbed your attention immediately, occasionally hilarious and often unhinged. Check out live versions of ‘Mouth Breather’ for proof. They had the song-writing and musical chops to be able to go toe to toe with anyone. This captured them in their concentrated and ferocious best with superb production work from Steve Albini. They may not have gotten the plaudits as bands who followed in their wake, but their impact was undeniable. Noise rock rarely gets better. – Philip Morrissey

Melvins – Bullhead (Philip)

Seattle in the late ’80s and early ’90s became ubiquitous with grunge. It could be argued that the genre owes its heritage to the area and to one band in particular; Melvins. They had already been cited as one of the main inspirations for grunge with their amalgamation of punk and metal. This release went further down the route of complete sonic assault. Their compositions became longer, slower, and unsettlingly heavy. The involvement of down-tuned and repetitive riffing, loose and inventive drumming, and weighty bass all made their mark. It became a landmark album in the development of sludge metal. The likes of ‘Boris’ lit the torchwood for the embryonic drone scene. Always outsiders, Melvins forged their own path going forward. – Philip Morrissey

Mercury Rev – Yerself Is Steam

Yerself is Steam remains timeless. It did not sound like it belonged upon release, yet it could have been put together last week. It is the echo of a band engaged on a voyage of exploration, sonically or otherwise. At times, the tracks are drenched in psychedelia, (‘Chasing A Bee’) while others contain intense and brutal guitar feedback (‘Very Sleepy River’). The band claimed to have been inspired as much by the wide-open landscape of their native Buffalo, cinematic compositions, and the beat era. The extreme nature of their lifestyle, growing tensions, and shifting styles saw the departure of vocalist David Barker and the evolution into a more melodic and streamlined approach. – Philip Morrissey

Cathedral – Forest of Equilibrium

It was a head scratcher for many upon first hearing Cathedral’s debut. Lee Dorian had cut his teeth in the crust punk scene and provided the vocals for Napalm Death’s first two studio releases. That blistering pace and furious delivery was forgotten about. Instead, Cathedral channeled their love for seventies metal and a slow, doom-laden approach. But it was the immense guitar tone, raw production feel and unique vocal style that set them apart. They reiterated upon the past while setting out a blueprint for those to follow on tracks like ‘Commiserating the Celebration.’ They took on different styles as their career to varying results. The British doom scene might not have been the same without Forest of Equilibrium. – Philip Morrissey

Therapy? – Babyteeth

Everyone’s favourite commotion makers from Northern Ireland first announced themselves on this mini-album. The recognisable combination of industrial noise, hardcore punk, catchy riffing, and outrageously dark humour was present in spades. They were a breath of fresh air on arrival and many of the tracks like ‘Meat Abstract’ remain live favourites. The production is  not the best, as the instruments are turned up way too high, but it demonstrated what possibilities awaited them with a proper label and a bigger budget. Babyteeth remains a glimpse of the sheer intensity and exciting prospect Therapy? are on stage. – Philip Morrissey

Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese

Plenty of alternative metal bands were knocking around with funk influences and other non-normative approaches to music. Few, if any, reached Primus’ levels of weirdness. They dropped heavy metal, funk, progressive rock, and oddball sensibilities into the mix and somehow made it work. The compositions and lyrics baffled many. More considered them deliberately vulgar; ‘Grandad’s Little Ditty’ being a case in point. The playing was of an incredibly high level, but always a demonstration of Les Claypool’s impeccable and complicated bass. – Philip Morrissey

Throwing Muses – The Real Ramona

The best outfits are those whose members bring different elements to the table. Throwing Muses were one such band as they combined candid and stark lyrics, unorthodox song structures, and melodic harmonies. This meshing coalesced perfectly here as they produced their most complete album. They found a new maturity in their songwriting to craft a collection of sumptuous indie pop songs without losing their quirk. Greater focus was placed on the rhythmic structure, and this helped expand the musical vocabulary of the band. It marked their creative highpoint, but also signified their farewell as members became more involved in side-projects and solo careers. – Philip Morrissey

Corrosion of Conformity – Blind

When it came to bands during this time, there were a myriad of different influences available to incorporate without needing to adhere to rules. Corrosion of Conformity had earned their reputation as one of the fastest and angriest outfits associated with both hardcore and thrash metal. Blind found them at a crossroads between those two scenes. Members were about to leave, and new blood had just arrived. Fresh recruits Pepper Keenan and Karl Agell brought a whole new set of sounds with them. Southern groove, Sabbath drenched stoner jams, punk, and classic rock were all blended to create something magical. ‘Damned for All Time,’ for instance, just kicks ass. On Blind Corrosion of Conformoity kept the same energy from before while looking towards the future. – Philip Morrissey

Coroner – Mental Vortex

While thrash metal was still a viable genre at the time, it was approaching its decline. Bands were faced with the prospect of changing their style or being left behind. Coroner successfully managed the former. They were always a fringe thrash band due to their unorthodox playing style and Swiss heritage. They faced the challenge by upping their game on the technical front. Dissonant riffing, sampling, and spiraling chord sequences all made themselves known. Coroner set themselves apart by putting together catchy and memorable sections. – Philip Morrissey

Sepultura – Arise

As tape trading grew among the community of extreme metal fans, many began to seek out newer bands from previously unfamiliar locations. This certainly led to the growth in popularity of Brazilian death/thrashers Sepultura. Arise marks their peak on many fronts. Signing to a major label granted them a larger budget, extensive touring brought them to a wider fan base, and producer Scott Burns implored them to experiment. Their creative spark was at its height as they brought hardcore punk, industrial elements, and tribal beats into the fold. ‘Dead Embryonic Cells’ leads by example in terms of how to successfully integrate new sounds. Tensions within the band rose as time went on, but Arise marked Sepultura’s apex. – Philip Morrissey

Asphyx – The Rack 

Slow death metal was not a new development, thanks to the likes of Autopsy and Obituary. The Dutch masters Asphyx ramped it up a notch though. The emphasis was less on technical flashiness or churning grove like their Florida associates. Instead, Asphyx concentrated on bringing the music down to its ugly, primitive level. The arrival of Martin Van Drunen from Pestilence was another feather in their cap. His deranged yowl meshed perfectly with the music, itself being equal parts hardcore punk, thrash, and doom metal. They nail the atmosphere needed for such an album with its nasty, feral, and menacing vibe on tracks like ‘Evocation’. They improved certain rough touches on subsequent releases but still managed to hold a powerful intensity. – Philip Morrissey

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