5. Beat Angels, Unhappy Hour (Epiphany) In my second life as a performer, there is only one 1996 song that I've jumped at the chance of covering live, "Hung Over With Jenny," and here's why. It's got cigarettes, whiskey and wild women tattooed all over it, and it makes a bourbon hangover seem as hopeful as the second coming of Christ. These punks sing about needle park shootists, trailer-park floozies and drunken reprobates like they're Up With People! And I'm not kissin' ass here, either.
Brendan Kelley (Punk/Indie purist)
1. Bikini Kill, Reject All American (Kill Rock Stars) Bikini Kill got its notoriety via riot grrl politicking. Now the members write incredible songs as well. A stellar album of melodic, estrogen-powered p-rock.
2. Superchunk, The Laughter Guns EP (Merge) Usually, when p-rock bands slow down and throw in experimental instruments (in this case an organ), the result is a horror show. This EP is the exception--Superchunk's best release ever.
3. F.Y.P, Toilet Kids Bread (Recess) F.Y.P has made wetting yr pants cool again. Kindergarten brat-core that makes you wanna lock yrself in yr room with some Cap'n Crunch and a bed to jump on.
4. The Peechees, Do the Math (Kill Rock Stars) No matter how much cream you rub on it, the burn just won't go away. If you're under 30, this is what you'll give your kids to prove that shit rocked harder back in the day.
5. J Church, The Drama of Alienation (Honest Don's Hardly Used Recordings) S.F.'s boy wonders slap together an LP full of downers, but still kick more ass than any other "pop/punk" band in action.
(Industrial, Underground Dance)
1. Haujobb, Solutions for a Small Planet (Metropolis) A long-awaited marriage: Jungle (among other things) meets industrial. Sinister, guitarless, analog-synth industrial, that is. And, yes, you most definitely can (and should) dance to it.
2. Chemical Brothers, Live at the Social, Volume I (Heavenly) Chem Bros.' much-hyped 1995 album of original dance music, Exit Planet Dust, was awesome. But these guys are deejays, and they're at their best as they are here--tweaking, pumping up and seamlessly weaving together some of the phattest obscure house, funk and hip-hop tracks of the past few years. Your home dance party in a box.
3. Various artists, Macro Dub Infection, Volume 2 (Gyroscope/Caroline) Two thick, juicy slabs of subterranean dub beats, with all manner of funky samples and delicious noize on top. And--wake up, America--plenty of sizzling jungle. Includes everyone from drum/bass wizard Plug to trance master Mouse on Mars to hip-hop's Prince Paul. The bomb sex album.
4. Various artists, In Dust We Trust (Invisible) This compilation plays like one long, flowing collaboration, featuring the best tribal/grind industrial that Pigface's Martin Atkins had the genius to make, produce or hand-pick. Includes cuts by Psychic TV, Pigface, Evil Mothers, Sheep on Drugs and others.
5. Coil, Black Light District (World Serpent) Is it dark ambient? Old-school industrial? Trance/house? Neoclassical? Whatever, it's experimental, weird and dark. Sacrifice your soul on Coil's exotic pagan altar now, and try to figure out what it all means later.
Mr. P-Body (Hip-Hop, etc.)
1. The Fugees, The Score (Columbia/Ruffhouse) This seamless, transcendent record redefined the boundaries of hip-hop. Yeah, that Roberta Flack cover is killing me, too, but come on--this record was released early in the year. Take a step back and recognize it for what it is--the most eclectic, original hip-hop album to come out in years. A giant step forward for the form.
2. Nas, It Was Written (Columbia) A close second for record of the year. The word's out on Nas, but don't blame him for the MTV overkill--he deserves all the hype. His personification of a gun on "I Gave You Power" is worth the price of admission alone--a deep, poignant track from one of hip-hop's brightest rising stars.
3. OutKast, Elevators (La Face) "Sophomore slump" doesn't exist in OutKast's considerable glossary of terms. This act's 1994 debut was the sleeper of the year, and Elevators rises to the same stature. Fat tracks: "Wheels of Steel," "ATLiens."
4. De La Soul, The Stakes Is High (Tommy Boy) The CD A Tribe Called Quest should have made. Best effort since 3 Feet High and Rising. The Native Tongues return.
5. Various artists, Swingers soundtrack (Hollywood) I bought this with the money I didn't waste on disappointments like Tha Doggfather. An attractive, atmospheric collection that set the perfect mood for one of '96's best films, mixing classic big-band arrangements with new swing by up-and-comers like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
(Blues, Funk, Soul, R&B)
1. James Brown, Make It Funky (Polydor) Polydor got its act together this year with several excellently detailed Brown compilations. This one covers the years '71 to '75, a period where James was struggling to stay on the charts--and making music that still sounds modern.