As grunge exploded from gloomy Northwestern basement jam sessions into worldwide corporately sponsored phenomenon as the '90s rolled on, so much was happening in the shadows of the MTV and Time magazine reports on the state of underground music. For every Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or Soundgarden soaking up commercial success and inspiring teen fashion trends, there were several dozen unknown acts, touring in broken-down vans and making music arguably more visceral and challenging while playing to a fraction of the audience. One of the most compelling of these lesser-known champions of the '90s independent music scene was Olympia, Washington's Unwound. From stop-start beginnings in 1991 until their 2002 breakup, the band created angular and driving guitar-based rock, moved by the spirit of Northwestern punk legends like the Wipers, but taking equal amounts of inspiration from experimental music and the blooming local creative minds that were spawning institutions like riot grrrl, Kill Rock Stars, and K Records. Though most listeners would be introduced to them with their 1993 album Fake Train, Unwound had been developing for some time leading up to that, and Kid Is Gone comprehensively captures those early phases of development, breaking down each noisy radio session and demo tape leading up to the band's better-known albums. The version of Unwound documented on Kid Is Gone predates the inclusion of drummer Sara Lund in 1992. Composed at this point of singer/guitarist Justin Trosper, bassist/vocalist Vern Rumsey, and drummer Brandt Sandeno, Unwound lack much of the moody introspection and terse dynamics that would become signatures of their sound in later days. Instead, they lean completely to the side of brash, spiky aggression and sometimes incohesive but always cathartic explosions of angsty basement punk. Dozens of tracks and extensive liner notes collect early demo recordings, a scrappy but dazzling self-titled album from 1992 (later reissued in 1995 once the band was more established), compilation and singles tracks, and a slightly awkward radio session from Olympia underground rock station KAOS. Though Unwound truly gelled once Lund joined the fold, Kid Is Gone offers an astonishingly complete window in to their earliest days, and makes sense of the refinements that followed the band's initial flailing but beautiful years. While neighbors Nirvana (and even the Melvins to a lesser extent) were being dragged headfirst into mainstream exposure, Unwound and a thousand other bands like them were occupying the basements, VFW halls, all-ages show spaces, makeshift recording studios, and weird house parties across the U.S. at the same time, creating a separate, more mysterious noise. Kid Is Gone begins to unravel Unwound's holy noise, still just as mysterious and captivating as it was nearly 20 years prior.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas