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Grunge that’s not Nirvana

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“Touch Me I’m Sick”

Artist: Mudhoney

Album: Single

Released: March, 1988

Mudhoney stands as one of the major—yet completely overshadowed—forerunners of the Seattle Grunge scene. “Touch Me I’m Sick,” their debut single, brought the dirty, fuzzy, bass-driven sound pervading the city’s indie scene to the cultural fore, paving the way for many larger acts to follow. The track’s biting lyrics, snarling vocals, and raw, ‘untrained’ vibe garnered widespread appeal from youth across the U.S., who, tired of the overly sexualized rock stars of glam metal, were seeking something heavier. Punk and heavy metal influences run rampant in this historic track, and truly cemented early grunge as a genuine counterculture movement.

c“Even Flow”

Artist: Pearl Jam

Album: Ten

Release: August 27, 1991

Often marked as a grunge band, Pearl Jam remains one of the most commercially successful bands of the ’90s era, yet its lack of ‘hardcore’ elements, or edge, makes the grunge labeling, which prizes counterculture notions, seem questionable. “Even Flow,” with its axe-tastic shredding and wah-powered guitars, is by no means a bad track, offering a new take on an old hard rock sound; however, when compared to early bands under the same genre, there is hardly a resemblance. “Even Flow” highlights the broadand ever broadeningnature of the grunge genre label that ultimately led to its demise.

“Rain When I Die”

Artist: Alice In Chains 

Album: Dirt

Released: September 29, 1992

Despite not being a single off of Dirt, “Rain When I Die” succeeds in encapsulating the sounds of a more ‘mature,’ or technical grunge. The pleasantly nauseating psychedelic intro, haunting vocal harmonies of the verse, and overall heavy but relaxed groove of this track is notably different in terms of complexity and feel when compared to  the classic garage grunge band. It nonetheless aggressively plucks at the same heartstrings of melancholy and angst pioneered by earlier bands. 

“Black Hole Sun”

Artist: Soundgarden 

Album: Superunknown

Released: March 8, 1994

This classic track off of Superunknown demonstrates the blessed union that can exist between sorrow and serenity common within grunge music.  The brooding, surreal lyrics drenched in gloom are brilliantly contrasted with the bubbly, mirthful sound of the arpeggiated guitar throughout the track, forming a dreamscape like no other. Chris Cornell, Soundgarden’s frontman, has himself explicitly confirmed the ‘lack’ of direct meaning within the track. While this lyrical openness may turn off many modern listeners, at the time of its release, it was believed that such subjectivity was a way to make music more accessible and personal in lieu of expanding mainstream monoculture. 

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