“Lowlife – The Seattle Underground Rock Album” Compilation (1987)

By 1986 grunge was already percolating, bubbling up from a hole in the ground in Seattle and just starting to attract attention, a style that came to define the entire city’s music scene much to the dismay of many, especially those artists tagged with that label. That same year the Deep Six compilation featured bands like Green River, Soundgarden, and the Melvins, and it was just a matter of time before the whole thing exploded nationally.

But here’s the thing. Grunge wasn’t the only thing happening in Seattle in 1986, as hard as that may be to believe today given how much attention Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden still get today. There was still a sort of post-punk/pop scene in the city as well, which in an ironic reversal became the new underground when grunge started to take off. It was that transition, I suspect, that prompted the creation of Lowlife – The Seattle Underground Rock Album. When I originally bought this record I assumed I’d be hearing a bunch of punk/grunge bands that never made it, but instead what I got was a great mix of more produced, cleaner indie rock, and I can tell you it was actually a pleasant surprise.

The only bands I’d heard of prior to dropping the needle on this today were Bundle of Hiss and The Walkabouts. Quite of few of the dozen bands included never released an album, and outside of possibly some self-released material Lowlife may be the only way to hear them today. It covers a broad swath of “popular” music, from the very new wavish (and very good) “Collisions” by 5 Sides Collide to the bizarre post-punk of Vexed and Clay Alien to the space-agey Melting Fish who sound like something that should be in Buckaroo Banzai. And yes, even one proto-grunge song managed to sneak on, Bundle of Hiss’ “Nitro”

It’s an eclectic mix and an interesting musical postcard from Seattle, and worth a listen if you’re into the city or that sort of transitional period between 80s pop and grunge.