2. DIGITAL FREE LONER BOY
This Tempe band plays old-school synthesized pop of the frothiest kind. The punchy, willfully silly "Vegas" (from their two-song debut release Sample and The Edge's Locals Only compilation) delivers some orchestral maneuvers in the light.

3. RADIO FREE AMERICA
It's fitting that this group of self-described "tech heads" met in an Internet chat room, where they found they shared a love for digital pop. These computer-chip warriors dished out the impressively polished debut CD killjulie, which highlighted their collective skill at updating the synth-pop of their youth by driving a Nine Inch Nail through its heart, with hard, modern beats and a pervading sense of doom.

1. REUBEN'S ACCOMPLICE
This quartet delivers alternately sensitive and powerful post-emo rock with intricate guitar figures and a driving rhythmic attack. As evidenced by the group's 1998 single "Borders/O' the Night," the immaculate six-string mathematics of Jeff Bufano and Chris Corak and the band's melodic songcraft separate them from the pack of emo pretenders.

2. MAD AT 'EM
The Valley's reigning girl-dominated punk band, Mad At 'Em churns but unabashedly catchy tunes delivered with a fast, irreverent sloppiness, mixing anger and humor in accessible three-minute packages. Though their sense of gender politics is rarely overt, it's always unmistakable. Guitarist Kim Smith: "We're just basically into empowering women who want to rock. Because, most likely, the guys aren't going to give them a chance, we want to do that."

3. CHULA
A showcase for the furious, powerhouse vocals of Yolanda Bejarano, this band has delivered a string of stunning sets over the past few months, opening for such stellar bands as Built to Spill and Jimmy Eat World. As demonstrated by fiery new originals like "The House, the Car, the Honeymoon" and "All I Wanted," Bejarano's voice is perfectly complemented by this band's roaring attack and acute feel for dynamics, and the combination skillfully conveys the shades between heartbreak and rage.

4. HILLBILLY DEVILSPEAK
Despite a series of recent lineup defections that would have crippled most bands, bassist/front man Tom Reardon has carried on with his grinding, abrasive punk from the Jesus Lizard school of aggression. The frightening "Chew Well," from Hillbilly's Colorized CD, is a marvel of contained intensity.

1. BARRIO LATINO
A versatile dance band with a repertoire of more than 250 songs, this band is where the traditions of Mexican folk music and the crossover dreams of Latin pop meet in one percussive setting.

2. PAN-AM ORCHESTRA
This huge salsa band is a throwback to the large dance orchestras that first brought Latin rhythms to the attention of the American masses. Featuring several topflight local jazz players, this band specializes in ultra-accomplished, densely arranged dance music.

3. STRAIGHT UP
This group takes its cue from the highlights of '70s funk, offering up bilingual Rick James and P-Funk with a Latin twist. Essentially an R&B band with a Latin flavor, they are eclectic and accomplished enough to fit in any number of genre categories.

REGGAE/SKA:

1. WALT RICHARDSON BAND
Widely revered as the godfather of the Valley's reggae scene, Richardson's musical interests also include touches of folk, blues and various world rhythms.

2. ZEBBHI NIYAH
The essence of Rasta traditionalism, Niyah has worked with both Rita and Ziggy Marley.

3. GRANTMAN AND ISLAND BEAT
Liberia native Grant Man brings a one-world, utopian consciousness to his soulful lover's rock.

1. LOOKOUT FOR HOPE
This trio applies the lessons of free jazz and the New York no-wave scene of the early '80s. With a minimalistic sax, bass and drums lineup, they turn gigs into improvisatory workouts, with frequently exciting results.

2. DENNIS ROWLAND
The essence of smooth, Rowland is a sharp, charismatic bandleader who is equally comfortable crooning the standards or tearing into a low-down blues number. Over the years, he and his band practically have become synonymous with Saturday nights at Mill Avenue hot spot Beeloe's.

3. DAVE COOK
A father figure to many of Phoenix's instrumental virtuosos, Cook has towered over the Valley jazz scene for three decades, bringing an unerring timekeeper's sense to electric fusion, bebop and big-band swing. Recently, he returned home to his old headquarters, the Melody Lounge (renamed Club Melody), where he is again presiding over infectiously loose all-star jams every Monday night.

FUNKED-UP:

1. FRED GREEN
This trio specializes in pro-spliff, anti-authority anthems, delivered with an airtight sense of funk groovesmanship, a metallic guitar heaviness and hip-hop-inspired beat consciousness.

2. BIONIC JIVE
Led by Larry Elyea, guitar hero and head honcho of Mind's Eye Digital (a consistent haven for local funk-rock), this band has cooked up a contemporary cosmic slop, where battling musical concepts collide and form bizarre new hybrids. The result is soulful and heavy, avant-garde yet danceable.

3. DISLOCATED STYLES
This rowdy ensemble can be thought of as the musical love child that was spawned from the 1991 union of Anthrax and Public Enemy on "Bring the Noise." Metallic guitar riffs collide with deep Clintonesque grooves, screeching shards of turntablism, and the fiery raps of mop-haired leader Joe Boogie and his MC accomplices. The band's fun-loving heavy groovesmanship is on display on its two CDs, last year's Spanking the Funky, and the brand-new Elevator Music. As Boogie himself puts it, "We are a love band. There's no hidden message in our songs, no politics, just the universal groove of a good time."

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