Albums

1. P J Harvey, To Bring You My Love (Island) (See essay.)
2. Tricky, Maxinquaye (Island) (See essay.)
3. The Roots, Do You Want More?!!!??! (DGC): Aceyalone had the flows, but the Roots had the music -- and all the way live. Seamlessly blending hip hop with the improv spirit of jazz, the Roots succeeded where Jazzmatazz failed miserably, even if the group calls its music "100 percent hip hop." One rap group that's better live than on disc, the Roots are a welcome anomaly.

4. Bjsrk, Post (Elektra): Post is an apt name for this bizarre gem, which posits the death of rock as a matter of fact -- and a springboard into another musical dimension. Likewise, Bjsrk reads the back catalog of female archetypes, leaving the icky scraps for Courtney Love. Ultimately, though, it's her inimitable voice that leaves me reeling with its dreamlike blend of innocence and idlike sensuality. At the Warfield last summer, Bjsrk proved herself alternamusic's only true diva.

5. Tie: Genius/GZA, Liquid Swords (Geffen); Ol' Dirty Bastard, Return to the 36 Chambers (Elektra): While mainstream rap tilled the smooth grooves of R&B (and Coolio proved to be MC Hammer with weirder hair), Wu-Tang Clansman-gone-solo created their own sonic universes, grounded in a cinematic hip-hopera of claustrophobic beats and eerie noises courtesy of visionary producer RZA. While Genius pulled off a kung-fu concept album worthy of Pink Floyd, mutha from another planet Ol' Dirty Bastard reminded us that menace-less humor is needed in hip hop, even if it dances on that thin line between clever and stupid.

6. Tie: Moby, Everything Is Wrong (Elektra); Laika, Silver Apples of the Moon (Too Pure/American): In electronic music's history, technology has signified progression, with man losing to machine time and again. With its human element purposely overshadowed, though, techno is often criticized for its coldness and sterility. But Christian-vegan Moby invested techno with a whole lotta soul, while Laika made "organic" techno through a live-band format. Now the genre runs the gamut of emotions, not just fascistic ecstasy. But will it ever play in Peoria?

7. Tie: Tortoise, Rhythms, Resolutions & Clusters (Thrill Jockey); Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Experimental Remixes (Matador/Atlantic): Finally, indie rockers got hip to what hip-hoppers knew all along: that the integrity of a song is bullshit, and that repossession is nine-tenths of the law.

8. Royal Trux, Thank You (Virgin): Scabby rock-stars-in-their-own-minds Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema finally made their major-label debut with an amazing album of sticky-fingered blues -- but in a year when rock seemed downright irrelevant. Too bad, because Trux's landscape of burned-out ugliness was politically appropriate, and underneath the grand funk railroad is chaotic anti-rock that sounds stranger and stranger upon repeated listens, like it's about to fall into a sewer and drag us down with it.

9. Various artists (v/a), Return of the DJ (Bomb Records): Just when DATs seemed to have killed the art of the DJ cut-and-scratch forever, The Bomb Editor David Paul compiled this testament to the unmatched powers of the wheels of steel. Vinyl only, of course.

10. Tarnation, Gentle Creatures (4AD): Equal parts Flannery O'Connor and Patsy Cline, Paula Frazer exhumes the ghosts of Southern Gothic literature with an otherworldly falsetto that never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. Unlike most Americana acts, who rely on starry-eyed historicism like aesthetic puritans, Frazer imbues the genre with a blackly ironic sensibility that renders her music both postmodernist and timeless.

Singles
D'Angelo, "Brown Sugar"; Portishead, "Sour Times"; Luniz, "I Got Five on It"; Elastica, "Connection"; The Coup, "Fat Cats/Bigger Fish"; Rancid, "Time Bomb"; TLC, "Creep"; Spearhead, "Hole in the Bucket"; Goldie, "Inner City Life"; Foo Fighters, "This Is a Call."

By Sia Michel

 
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