Is Grunge back to save music, again?

Music recommendations, a playlist and some thoughts on grunge.

Is Grunge back to save music, again?
METTE by Camille Summers Valli

Our first music recommendations newsletter of the new era of Drowned in Sound is here.

In an era of diffuse focus, where people celebrate the death of critics and the end of gatekeepers, we're pushing back.

We (yes, this is the royal "we" as for now DiS is just me, Sean Adams) feel as overwhelmed as you probably do by the daily tidal wave of new releases (120k new songs released every day?!) and we want to surface some pearls and make it easier to find some new releases to dive into.

By "new" we mean, recent. Things that might have taken six months or six weeks to know the music is worth recommending, rather than delurging you with things we heard six minutes ago. We might even wait until we've seen an act live or heard more than one song before we recommend them.

This isn't about breadth or depth of editorial. It's a monthly newsletter about music that feels like more people need to hear it.

Expect a mixture of melancholic pop, melancholic drone, melancholic film scores, melancholic rnb, some modern emo, angry af protest punk, and a platter of neon pink sad bangers... and then at some point, the seasonal affective disorder will wear off for a few weeks in the summer when there might be some big floor-fillers.

Or maybe some guests to pop up with less miserable tastes. We'll see.

This first edition features January 2024's albums of the month, a lovely bit of Bjork archive, Billy Bragg on cynicism, our playlist, a NSFW gem and the new artist I can't get enough of right now. But first...


Like the mould beneath your floorboards, did grunge ever truly go away? Perhaps you were busy washing your hair when No Age and Liars breathed new life into songs with a chugging guitar and punk-rock drums. If you haven't had the pleasure of the glorious howl of Dream Wife, left a Savages gig covered in unexplained bruises or been left wondering 'how on earth are two people making it sound like a helicopter just took off???' when watching Blood Red Shoes, then maybe you think grunge has been buried for decades. Then yeah, maybe we could say the life-giving punk-rock snarl fell out of focus.

You could (could!) also argue all of those acts and 500+ others are just rock bands, inspired by the likes of Nirvana, Pixies, Sleater-Kinney, Sabbath, and Bikini Kill.

But let's not let any of that get in the way of people wearing a short sleeve tee over a long sleeve tee from thumping their chest and declaring GRUNGE IS SO BACK! Because, have you heard how good some of the recent crop of quietLOUD records are?

There's Letter to Self by SPRINTS (Bandcamp) which was released at the start of 2024. It made me feel 14 again within a few thudded drum builds, finding myself back in a beaten up car, listening to L7 and Babes in Toyland for the first time on the way home from an Idlewild gig.

Letter to Self is an exceptional debut album, by a band from Dublin, produced by Gilla Band's Daniel Fox in a way that feels as if everything is ricocheting around Karla Chubb as her voice rises above the glorious racket. It's an intense and cathartic listen, tackling women’s ongoing fight for bodily autonomy, mental health storms, sexuality, identity, and catholic guilt. Karla Chubb sums it up thus: “No matter what you're born into, or have experienced, there's a way to emerge from this and be happy within yourself.”

With similarly low slung guitars, there's new music from Pillow Queens forthcoming album. This new tune takes a volume cranked-up Julien Baker approach to slowly emotionally deconstructing you as it builds and builds…

'I Got Heaven' by the brilliantly named Mannequin Pussy is just about the most urgent rock song you could ever hope for. One of those tracks that writing it must have felt like going from an unhinged bad mood to the most joyous shoegaze dreamland. There are few better ways to spend the next 3 minutes.

Then again, maybe grunge isn't back, perhaps, as Vogue said, it has grown up. Does that mean we (yes I mean the royal “we”) are the old folks now? How did that happen?! Then again, it's all youngsters bringing it back.

Which drags us neatly onto something over 20 years old...


With news of an American Analog Set boxset and the return of Les Savy Fav (watch their new video!), I've been diving back to some of the albums I adored in the early 2000s and found myself reconnecting with Burning Airlines Identikit. Don't be fooled by their Brian Eno-inspired name, it's the sort of record that feels like someone has taken all the sharp edges of At the Drive-in, the Fugazi special sauce, the sing-a-long charm of The Living End, the warm goo of Rival Schools, the grainy blue skies of Remy Zero, the lurching-over-you breakdowns of Alkaline Trio, and the dizzy-fizz of Jane's Addiction, and let them fight in a sack and the winner gets to swing from a chandelier. The twiddly little riffs are ridiculously infectious. The lyrics will become ear worms that stalk you. And it even got a 7.4 on Pitchfork back in 2001, which might be where I discovered it, if it wasn't because it was playing in a record shop.

Identikit, by Burning Airlines
15 track album


A translucent synth line glides slightly off-key beneath the glorious 'Van Gogh'. It's the sort of ripe peach of song that gets juicier with every bite. Less a 21st-century toe-tapper, more of a shuffle-one-shoulder and wheat-in-the-wind sway from side-to-side. It's a sliding in socks across a shiny floor, your entire body movin' to this glistening Daft Punk-dunked all-caps POP anthem.

The iridescent track is laced with interconnected hooks, grooves, and shoutouts to queen Janet Jackson that leaves your brain spinning as much as your meringue nest of limbs.

The lyrics are almost a reflection of a reflection and a paean to the rhythm, with lines like "you got me fixated on everything you do" floating into "you got poet dreams in every word you speakin'" and "You're my new vice, the whipped cream and the cherry on top (I like my cherries on top)"

I'm on my 500th-ish listen to this track since it came out last year, having weaned myself off the glorious 'Mama's Eyes' with its Childish Gambino charm, that could sit on a party playlist alongside Robyn, Jamie xx, Annie and song of the century contender 'Losing You' by Solange. These magnificent songs feature on her debut EP METTENARRATIVE and it's fair to say I'm excited for an album proper from this Minnesotan multi-hyphenate musician, actor, dancer, and more.

METTE: “My EP is a collection of songs that light up a constellation of my artistry. These aural portraits seek to convey my ideals, my fantasies, and my most intimate thoughts through intersectional and multi-genre sound. Bringing this work to the world conjures the most insurmountable gratitude – I feel alive like never before. The journey to this project’s completion has been nearly 5 years long... and I have no regrets for taking my time, garnering my skills, and honing my intentions.”


Every month the Drowned in Sound community vote for their albums of the month (everyone is welcome to join in, keep an eye out for the thread at end of the month). January's votes have been tallied by DiSser BMS1, and the list was topped by a Radiohead side project. Really recommend diving into the rest of these, a really strong crop of releases and the top 5s (I just got into the brilliant Katy Kirby album from the thread, lighting all my Cassandra Jenkins, Aimee Mann and sunny Sunday morning piano-shaped boxes).

1st The Smile - Wall of Eyes
2nd Donato Dozzy - Magda
3rd Bill Ryder Jones - Iechyd Da
4th Cheekface - It’s Sorted
5th Marika Hackman - Big Sigh
6th Astrid Sonne - Great Doubt
6th R.A.P. Ferreira & Fumitake Tamura - the First Fist to Make Contact When We Dap
8th Future Islands - People Who Aren’t There Anymore
8th Ty Segal - Three Bells
10th Brown Horse - Reservoir
10th Cowboy Sadness - Selected Jambient Works, Vol. 1


Has there been a better use of the c-bomb in a song? The bass on this track is equally joyously filthy.

Three Reads

Music journalism lives on but can be harder to find in your social feeds, so each month I'll pull out three picks together for you to bookmark

And relatedly, one from the DiS archive... Kevin Perry's incredible 5 part interview with Bjork back in 2011.

One to Watch

Billy Bragg discusses his activism, rock against racism, trans rights, cynicism, and how music can no longer change the world...

The Playlist

Still in three minds about continuing to point people to Spotify for our playlist (note: most of the links in this newsletter goto Bandcamp or YouTube) but given how hard it is for artists to get enough support to juice the algorithm, so we'll carry on for now.

Subscribe to the DiS playlist here if you're not already (2023 playlist is archived).

The End

Confession: This was a bit daunting. Restarting Drowned in Sound and knowing how important the first set of recommendations are to set the tone of this newsletter felt pretty important to get 'right'.

Ultimately, there is no right way of doing this but I would love your feedback on what you liked or would improve for next month's edition.

p.s. if you'd like some music recommendations from me to land in your Instagram DMs, sign up here.