100 Records That Rocked 100 Issues of Exclaim!

100 Records That Rocked 100 Issues of Exclaim!
"You've gotta check this out," is the music fan's rallying cry, the primal need to share a sonic experience. When Exclaim! was started back in 1991, the impetus was the same. A couple of college/community radio programmers thinking that there's too much great music going unheard. From the very beginning each contributor provided a unique perspective ? their passion for music being paramount. Now, 100 issues later, we've succumbed to a collector's love of lists, and the result will be an endless source of discussion and debate of omissions and additions.

We all threw our record collections into the ring, but to sift through the anarchy, there were some rules: albums released between our first issue, March 1992, and the present; reissues, compilations, singles and EPs were disqualified for expediency's sake, and the free-for-all began. Was there consensus? Almost none. But for musical, personal, influential reasons, these were the records that excited us, made us leap and listen, demanding others do the same. This list is a reflection of our diverse, often conflicting interests in new sounds. They're not the best-selling, nor the best known; they are, from our unique perspective, 100 records you shouldn't live without. If you missed these albums the first time around, this is our chance to say "you've gotta check this out."

The Adjusters Before the Revolution (Moon Ska '98)
The Adjusters were always a complex band with great sensibilities, but they finally peaked with Before the Revolution. This wicked combo of ska, funk, soul, R&B and attitude is the complete package for any ska/mod fan. From catchy to heart-wrenchingly soulful, this disc never ceases to amaze me. ?SV

Air Moon Safari (Caroline ?98)
Into the potentially cheesy realms of cinematic Euro-pop Air bravely dove ? and boy, did they ever succeed. From the soundtrack-y groove of "La Femme D'Argent," to the faux ?70s, ELO/Alan Parsons-drenched pop of "Sexy Boy" and "Kelly, Watch The Stars," Moon Safari is a name-dropping critic's wet dream. But to the public that snatched it up, this disc was quite simply the best album to have sex to in years. Only the French could have pulled this one off. -CR

Tony Allen Black Voices (Comet ?99)
Greater than the sum of its parts. Allen was Fela's most celebrated drummer, and producer Doctor L has done good work in Paris, but Black Voices ended up one of the best combinations of live playing and sampling yet realised in any genre. The two principals conjure a jazzy, dubby brew far beyond Afrobeat's origins. This is "urban" music in the best sense. -DD

Apples In Stereo Tone Soul Evolution (SpinArt ?97)
The headmasters at Elephant 6 school showed pop students the answers with Tone Soul Evolution. After their notable debut, the Apples focused their song structures and sound to produce a brilliant 14-song album that jingles and jangles effortlessly. Robert Schneider is at his best here in wordplay and melodies, sounding sweet like Paul and rowdy like John. Pop fans all over were relieved to finally hear the coda to Revolver-era Beatles Wild Honey-like Beach Boys. A marvelous trip that the Apples may never replicate again. -JB

A Tribe Called Quest Midnight Marauders (Jive ?93)
Devoted to the art of moving butts and minds, Q-Tip, Phife and Ali reached sublime heights on their third effort. The deft blending of shrewd social commentary into the abstract poetics and playful banter, couched in the blissful realisation of their sophisticated jazz-inflected blueprints, unwittingly set de facto hip-hop standards. -DFC

Basement Jaxx Remedy (XL ?99)
While there's no end to the number of great house records in the ?90s, Remedy is the first to fully deliver an album-length impression of the scene and its British sensibility in particular. From the ragga-garage fever of "Jump N' Shout" to the salsa-stomp of "Bingo Bango," the Jaxx certainly provide dance floor destruction. But ultimately it's the One Nation Under A Groove update in "Red Alert," addictive with its lyrics of Y2K relief, that put the mania in perspective. Admittedly, the abrasive production doesn't make it the easiest album to listen to, but it definitely remains as one of the most innovative of 1999. -PB

Beck Odelay (DGC '96)
Could anyone have foreseen Beck becoming the most important artist in the last half of the ?90s? That may be debatable, but he got my vote after this album. With its combination of blues, country, jazz, garage punk, hip-hop, and sampling, it will stand as the most complete combination of 20th century Western musics that anyone has ever attempted. When "Loser" first appeared, it admittedly seemed like a cruel joke, but this album proved that Beck's art is more complex than most of us can grasp. Just ask Kid Rock. ?JS

Belle & Sebastian If You're Feeling Sinister (Matador '96)
By the time I finally heard Belle And Sebastian, about ten friends had been imploring me to listen to them for months. I think I let the album play in its entirety four times before I moved from my seat. Not since the glory days of the Smiths had there been a band who combined memorable tunes and witty lyrics so wonderfully. And, for the most part, Belle & Sebastian are a band who have been getting better and better with every subsequent release. But nothing compares with that joyful memory of hearing them for the first time in all their glorious wistfulness. This is a band that changes lives. ?ME

Ben Folds Five Ben Folds Five (Passenger ?95)
He won our attention for being the first virtuoso pianist front man since Elton John not worthy of our scorn and tomatoes; he won our hearts for being the most keenly insightful smart-ass of a generation comprised of little else. Ben Folds Five cast a kidding, yet sympathetic, eye toward the aging slacker, blinking in the glare of burgeoning adulthood. Old enough to know better but not yet wise enough to change, as seemingly ordinary an act as walking to the beer store alone at dusk gained a beautiful poignancy. Folds would soon write a hit about abortion. -MW

The Beta Band The Three E.P.'s (Astralwerks ?98)
"I'm now going to sell five copies of the Beta Band," says Rob in High Fidelity. Within seconds of putting on The Three E.P.'s, the patrons in his shop start bobbing their heads, grooving their hips and asking, "Who is this?" The Beta Band are indeed the quintessential example of a band beloved of critics and record store snobs, relying on in-store play and evangelism for their sales. Their eccentric brew of hippie anarchy, classic (folk) rock and the turntablist ethic of serious playfulness is as wobbly as it sounds, but instantly commanding. Truly, madly, deeply wonderful. -CWo

Björk Homogenic (Warner ?97)
Even if her vocal capabilities were the extent of her talent, Björk would be a mind-blowing artist. As it is, she's a kaleidoscopic arranger who embodies what it means to live amidst the contradictions of the modern world while straddling ancient traditions ? and she does so with a truly open mind and ear, always true to herself first and foremost. Her previous work sounded like eclectic mixed tapes; as the title suggests, this one is her most cohesive album. -MBa

Boards of Canada Music Has the Right to Children (Warp '98)
By track four, "Telephasic Workshop," we knew the Boards of Canada were very special; music's worth can be curiously obvious. They were not genre mavericks, but the mid-tempo hip-hop beats under the most compelling synths ever did more. Samples actually provoked emotional response, in fact, everything about Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin implied a deliberate attempt to nurture the listener, for which we are so thankful. -MBu

Boom Bip & Dose One Circle (Mush ?00)
1200 Hobos MC Dose One has released four thoroughly solid albums in the last year, but his most recent effort, with Boom Bip on the production, is his best yet. Circle is as much Beat poetry as it is hip-hop; a greater artistic endeavour than the majority of hip-hop releases available in this stagnant market. The beats are superb, with plenty of variety; Dose's abstract poems are written inside the CD booklet. If there is any justice in this world, Boom Bip & Dose One's Circle should become a landmark moment in hip hop history. -TQ

Jeff Buckley Live At Sin-E (Sony '93)
Although only a four song EP, Jeff Buckley's debut caught the attention of enough people to have him play the main stage at Reading barely a year later. A voice with the capacity to emote at once, delicacy and strength, was inspirational. Armed with only his guitar and amp, this live recording would create an underground buzz that would have him filling small clubs across North America. But it was his magnum opus "Eternal Life" that would ironically make his own premature death even more tragic. Easily the most spiritually powerful song of a generation. ?SW

Buffalo Tom Let Me Come Over (Beggars Banquet ?92)
Let Me Come Over established Buffalo Tom as one of the most criminally and inexplicably overlooked bands in the world. Its broad sweep of galloping indie rock and muted ballads was grounded in sparkling melodies, but it may be that the delivery was just so unadorned and impassioned as to sound disconcertingly foreign when arch aloofness and irony ruled alternative aesthetics. In fact, Let Me Come Over may have been more properly a soul album, its raw, emotive power elevating simple lyrics into the stuff of heartbreak and uplift. -CWo

Bunchofuckingoofs Carnival Of Chaos + Carnage (Fringe '92)
This represents a synopsis of the band's work to date, at roughly the halfway point of their almost two decades of existence. It is a superbly recorded work by a band whom many consider the quintessential Toronto hardcore group. The intricacy of the guitar work on this record is noticeably absent from the Goofs live shows, which still continue undaunted. This brings us to the goof's real strength. Anti-cocaine, anti-heroin, anti-automobile and anti-fascist; the Goofs lead by example. A must have for anyone who believes they're a punk. ?RA

Change Of Heart Smile (Cargo '92)
For me, Canadian rock didn't exist until I heard this album. Sure, there were bands I thought were great (13 Engines, Cowboy Junkies, Grapes Of Wrath), but Change of Heart made a deeper connection. Maybe it was the communal spirit at the heart of this record, or the fact that they were able to pull it together at all during those four long days at Reaction Studios. Maybe it was the big ideas combined with the new big sound. Or maybe it's because rock and roll just didn't get any better. -JS

Common Sense Resurrection (Ruthless ?94)
Although now known as Common, a rare infectious verve permeated this Chicago MC's sophomore effort. Over deliciously jazzy loops, Common's dazzling wordplay, wit and exuberance induced multiple rewinds and respect for Windy City hip-hop. Refreshingly self -deprecating, his ongoing wrestling with responsibility emerged on the consummate "I Used To Love H.E.R." -DFC

Company Flow Funcrusher Plus (Rawkus ?97)
Company Flow's debut full-length, Funcrusher Plus, is full of Mr Len and El-P's chunky off-center beats and plenty of intellectual lyrical flexing. Whether El-P and Bigg Jus are tearing up the microphone with plenty of braggadocio ("The Fire In Which You Burn") or telling tales of sorrow ("Last Good Sleep"), Funcrusher Plus is a fantastic album that requires many rewinds and no fast forwards. It is also the album that first put Rawkus Records on the hip-hop map. -TQ

Converge When Forever Comes Crashing (Equal Vision ?98)
Establishing themselves in the underground with their previous releases (Caring and Killing and Petitioning The Empty Sky) it wasn't until When Forever Comes Crashing that Converge captured the true intensity of their sonic killing spree and released their definitive album. With the production/engineering assistance of Steve Austin (Today Is The Day) and a young Steven Brodsky (Cave In) on bass, this combines the hardcore/metallic assaults of previous releases with a noisier, experimental slant and contrasting introspective moments that helped spawn the current noise/hardcore movement and still stands as one of its landmark albums. -CG

De La Soul Buhloone Mind State (Tommy Boy ?93)
After declaring themselves dead on their previous record, hip-hop's smartest crew returned with a record that stunned even their most adventurous fans. Driven by a pathological fear of blowing up, De La Soul came up with an outsider rap classic, blending the playfulness of 3 Feet High & Rising with the raw bitterness of De La Soul Is Dead. Putting a Maceo Parker instrumental next to a pair of Japanese MCs was a stroke of genius, while "I Am I Be" remains the most honest cut in hip-hop history. -MG

Destroyer Thief (Scratch ?99)
This criminally under-heard album also serves as its own explanation why ? this is Vancouver singer-songwriter Dan Bejar's indictment of the music industry, and why he won't play along. More stripped down than the more arranged treatment his songs get in the New Pornographers, their simplicity is deceptive, as repeat listening reveals lyrical depth and deft melodic inventiveness. As he sings on the opening track, there may be joy in being barred from the temple, but Destroyer really wants to bring it to the ground. ?JK

Dillinger Escape Plan Calculating Infinity (Relapse ?99)
It's a rare occurrence when a band redefines a genre, but the Dillinger Escape Plan is an extraordinary band. Unconditionally brutal, genre defying, as close to technically perfect as humanly possible and utterly terrifying in a live environment, the Dillinger Escape Plan didn't reinvent themselves or their sound inasmuch as they reinvented the aggressive music underground. Combining hardcore, metal, prog, jazz and an unwavering ability for the extreme with unparalleled execution and innovation, Calculating Infinity shrugged off every conceivable notion of how a hardcore/metal album should sound and established Dillinger as the future of heavy music in the process. -CG

Dirty Three Horse Stories (Touch & Go ?96)
From the first mournful wail of Warren Ellis's violin, Horse Stories is as pure and as raw emotion as has ever been set to magnetic tape. Lyrics would likely be of the treacly, heart-on-sleeve variety, but without them, Ellis, drummer Jim White and guitarist Mick Turner are able to convey remarkably narrative instrumentals of epic grandeur. One listen to "Sue's Last Ride," about the last night of hell a friend went through as she overdosed, demonstrates why Ellis has been known to weep openly during shows; Horse Stories comes closest to capturing the power of their live performance. -JK

Eric's Trip Love Tara (Sub Pop ?93)
It still sounds like a dream. Love Tara endures as the most precious, glimmering shard of debris from the so-called Halifax Pop Explosion. Fifteen songs, which clock in a few seconds over 30 minutes, thrill with raw excitement and heartfelt emotion. A beautiful, fragile record. ?CWa

The Flaming Lips The Soft Bulletin (Warner ?99)
The Lips had been a brave and exciting band frequently throughout the ?90s, but no one must've expected the near-peerless sonic and emotional grace of The Soft Bulletin. Faux orchestras and Steven Drozd's thunderous drums bob and weave around Wayne Coyne's awestruck commentary about the love/hate dichotomy of human existence. Its final verdict: love is all you need. If Nevermind began the (rock) decade on a note of resignation, The Soft Bulletin wrapped its arms around the century and bade it sweet dreams. -MW

4 Hero Two Pages (Talkin' Loud ?98)
British beat wizards Dego and Mar Mac have always been at the forefront of drum & bass culture, innovating the most dynamic sounds and then leaving others to imitate them. Few however have matched the ambitiousness of Two Pages. "Page One" features a live ensemble breathing gorgeous tones into the duos's compositions, while "Page Two" presents a Sun Ra-like exploration of the sonic cosmos, with commentaries on evidence of alien life and parallel universes. A combination of the elegiac and the esoteric that ultimately spells genius. -PB

Gavin Froome Mobile Villager (Nordic Trax '99)
Creating a solid, consistently engaging house full-length is no easy task. Vancouver's Froome more than met the challenge with Mobile Villager. Creating 12 instrumentals ranging in tempo, tone and sub-genre, Froome demonstrated that he could warmly and cohesively embrace deep, tech-y, filtered disco, jazz, and even down-tempo sounds. There truly are few house albums from anywhere in the world that can match its scope and subtlety. ?DB

Godspeed You Black Emperor f#a#infinity (Constellation '96)
Because it came out of nowhere. Sure, sure there were warning signs but Godspeed blindsided Canadian music with an album full of beauty and terror: blasted landscapes littered with broken voices; dirges torn to shreds by crescendos of strings and percussion. F#A# infinity is definitely not from the same place as the airport lounge where Loverboy and Honeymoon Suite spend their afternoons. Because it was chance meeting but it felt like fate. ?EH

The Grifters Crappin' You Negative (Shangri-La '94)
A big part of what makes Crappin' so great is its effortless, existential blues swagger. It falls directly into the lineage of records like the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street, Beefheart's Clear Spot and Wire's Pink Flags. The songs are more developed than on their equally great One Sock Missing album, and this time when they really let rip, the effects are terrifying like those best dark rock moments. What it lacks in flower store ambience it makes up for with parking garage sonic power. ?NE

Guided By Voices Bee Thousand (Scat ?94)
Bob Pollard's seminal work is one of the best pop records of the decade. In just over half an hour, Pollard delivers 20 hook-filled wonders sewn together with tape hiss. It was at the time of this, the band's eighth full-length release, that GBV started to create a frenzy of media attention with raucous live shows to back up their impressive home-baked recordings. Bee Thousand is packed with gems, from moving anthems to poppy rock-outs, and still stands as Pollard's most impressive pop thesis. -JB

PJ Harvey Dry (Too Pure '92)
One listen to this boldly passionate release and I was hooked. PJ Harvey burst into the male-dominated, heavily jaded rock world of the early ?90s with a release that kicked critics and new-found fans on the ass. Dry, her debut, invited listeners into an intense, brutally honest, confusion-filled world where every word and guitar lick was as precise as it was raw. Nothing short of brilliant. -DB

Heavy Vegetable The Amazing Undersea Adventures of Aqua Kitty and Friends (Headhunter '94)
While San Diego resident Rob Crow continues to flex his creative songwriting powers in present-day bands like Thingy, Optiganally Yours and Pinback, his first band captured the essence of his unique pop sensibility on Aqua Kitty. Roller coaster rhythms drive home intoxicating melodies that impact with highly strung immediacy. Joined by Eléa Tenuta (with whom Crow continues to work in Thingy) for stunning male/female vocal interplay, the epiphanies come fast and furious with most tracks clocking in under the two-minute mark. -ID

Hepcat Right On Time! (Hellcat ?98)
Hepcat's breathtakingly authentic Jamaican flavour is peerless when it comes to the contemporary ska scene. Right On Time!, the band's third album broke new ground in revealing the roots of ska's third wave without compromising the jazzy Caribbean melodies that kept every track incredibly strong. An essential part of any ska lover's collection, Right On Time! is the standard by which other albums are measured. -PL

The High Llamas Gideon Gaye (Target ?94)
Music publications currently receive thousands of press kits each year from bands claiming to be influenced by Pet Sounds, when in actuality they sound like a drawer full of silverware falling down the stairs. As with Nirvana and Beck, you could blame Sean O'Hagan for providing the terminally uninspired a new set of references with which to fuck up, but the man is innocent. And brilliant. Gideon Gaye drew inspiration from the Beach Boys (and John Cale and Steely Dan and Burt Bacharach) to create an experimental, easy listening masterpiece. In 1994, there could be few more subversive acts. ?MW

The Inbreds Hilario (PF ?93)
Before drum & bass dominated dance floors, Kingston, Ontario's Inbreds were rockin' proof that bass and drums could be done. Much of this was recorded in the band's infancy, bedroom four-track style, but this is no Sebadoh lo-fi fuzz out - bassist Mike O'Neill's melodic sensibilities were always more ambitious. Backed by the boundless enthusiasm of drummer Dave Ullrich, O'Neill employed a distortion pedal to flesh out their sound, but his peerless songwriting is what sets this apart. They would get more polished, but Hilario remains a marvel - quintessentially Inbreds. -JK

King Cobb Steelie King Cobb Steelie (Raw Energy ?93)
The most conflicted band in Canada let all their contradictions blaze forth on their 1993 debut. Crunchy indie guitar rock inflected by Afro-funk and hints of dub; introspective songs about personal politics undercut by goofy, non sequitur song titles cribbed from Saturday morning television; little instrumental curios jostling with the epic regions of "One's a Heifer"'s monumental power riff. Raw and as yet undisciplined, King Cobb Steelie seemed charmingly unaware of how daring their polyglot pop ambitions really were. The rest of Canadian music is still trying to catch up. -CWo

The Kingpins Lets Go To Work (Stomp '98)
Its not very often that a band will meets or exceeds expectations, but the Kingpins did not disappoint with Lets Go To Work. A great mix of traditional ska with surf/garage undertones, they served up some instrumentals but also some duets. They displayed some rock steady tendencies but also let loose. They showed tons of depth and variety with better production and seasoning than their debut. This is a home-grown classic. -SV

Kyuss Blues for the Red Sun (Dali ?92)
With this, Kyuss brought the world of sand-blasted stoner rock to the mainstream and opened the way for bands like Monster Magnet and a whole host of other desert grunge practitioners. Producer Chris Goss, formerly of Masters of Reality, captured Kyuss's guttural bowel-shattering dirge brilliantly. -SG

Labradford Prazision LP (Kranky, '94)
While not their best overall release, Prazision was a startling preview of what Labradford were capable of. This debut alchemised the excess noisage of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless with the ponderous delicacy of Eric Satie: would-be shoegazers who instead chose to look at the stars. "Listening in Depth" still stands as a beautious monolith, dense as a black hole ? heavy music that managed to create space rather than obliterate it. ?DP

Le Tigre Le Tigre (Wiiija ?99)
Original riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) figured out that there ain't gonna be a revolution unless you can dance to it. Snarling riff-o-ramic buoyant bubble-gum and incredibly infectious new wave hooks fuel her simple challenges: "Let me see you depoliticise my rhyme." Tackling the misogynist patriarchy has never sounded like such a good time. -MBa

Luscious Jackson In Search of Manny EP (Big Cat '93)
Filled with sly humour and not-so-slick beats, this debut told the tale of two fun, funky NYC femmes out to rock the town. With their E.S.G.-worshipping rhythms, super-simple programmed beats, and goofy, sex-positive rhymes, Gabby Glaser and Jill Cunniff were livin' it large. Comparisons to their friends and, later, label-bosses the Beastie Boys were inevitable, but Luscious were far less gimmicky and much more subtle. Drummer Kate Schellenbach and keyboardist Vivian Trimble made Luscious a full-fledged band at the tail end of this project and the rest, as they say, is history. ?DB

Magnetic Fields 69 Love Songs (Merge ?99)
This is the penthouse suite in Stephin Merritt's considerable tower of song. Umpteen musical genres, 69 songs, five singers, three discs, and one songwriter result in a gender-fucking millennial art joke that defies anyone else to tread new ground on the subject of love. An astounding achievement ? heartbreaking, hilarious, and impossible to ignore. ?MBa

Massive Attack Protection (Virgin ?94)
The definitive statement of Massive Attack's electronic sensibility. Can any other band write such riveting slow grooves? The lyrics and song structures on this album are sublimely written and made even better by the likes of Tracy Thorn and Horace Andy, who give the performances of their lives. Mad Professor's dub album No Protection is one of his own career highlights and acts as a companion to the vocal version. -DD

Mercury Rev Deserter's Songs (V2 ?98)
After a long, long, hiatus, Mercury Rev returned with a masterpiece that their previous disc, See You On The Other Side, had only hinted at. More musically akin to the Golden Ticket EP by their Harmony Rockets alter ego, Mercury Rev dispensed with their previous spazziness, and instead presented a calmer, more composed vision. A beautiful and profound snapshot of calm in the eye of an emotional hurricane. ?CR

Nas Illmatic (Columbia '94)
Queensbridge-based Nas Escobar capitalised perfectly on mainstream rap's mid-life crisis (post-gangsta and Public Enemy, pre-Puff and the white kids) with his immortal debut, Illmatic. Released in advantageous proximity to Wu-Tang Clan's skilful, vicious first album, Illmatic's star producers matched Nas's unrivalled mike technique to boombastic, shimmering, lethally-relaxed beats and music. Next to today's jittery and nervous rap hits, the record still sounds revolutionary, and the career-defining metaphors of Nas-as-ghetto-prophet and Nas as Rakim II found its fullest and most vibrant expression on the quaking and raw "New York State of Mind." ?CT

Neotropic 15 Levels of Magnification (N-Tone '96)
Riz Maslen is a genius. Though she had already been releasing EPs under her Small Fish With Spine moniker, Maslen reached the heads, ears and IDM discussion groups of electronic music geeks everywhere with this full-length. The tremendous range of sounds, tones and moods found within 15 Levels? ensured that there was much to discuss. Neotropic's sound sources are as original as her ideas. New discoveries are still made with each listen. -DB

Neurosis Through Silver In Blood (Relapse ?96)
A new label and a continuing musical evolution coalesced into Neurosis's most violent and damaging work. Through Silver In Blood pushed their sound beyond any known limits; swirling dirges collided with off-kilter moments of clarity, tribal rhythms and soundscapes that built upon the tension and beauty of the music before overwhelming it with unbridled heaviness that dissipated before recommencing. Punishing is not just a word for Through Silver In Blood, it is its mantra ? made all the more potent by its use of non-metal instrumentation, visuals and brutality through artistry. ?CG

Neutral Milk Hotel In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Merge ?98)
Neutral Milk Hotel's second album is like finding your soul mate ? from the first instant, it feels like you've always known this album. The most focused, consistent and inventively accessible of the "Elephant Six" crew, Jeff Magnum's kitchen sink muse throws horns, accordion, organ, singing saw and a full lint trap of fuzz into his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang melody machine. An album that would make a wickedly hallucinogenic children's story. -JK

New York Ska Jazz Ensemble Get This! (Moon Ska ?98)
Combining Harlem night clubs and ?60s Jamaican sound systems, the NYSJE, a ska super-group culling members from the Skatalites, the Toasters and the Scofflaws, bring a respect and love for the original influences of the early ska musicians alive again. Their harmonised blend of disparate elements into cohesive, accomplished tracks is a testament to outstanding musicianship. Not only do their songs stand on their own strengths, but one of the great things about this band and this particular album is the vision and new-found respect for artists like Ellington, Monk and Mingus. ?PL

Nicolette Now Is Early (Shut Up & Dance '92)
Produced by Smiley and P.J., aka the criminally overlooked Shut Up and Dance duo, Now Is Early is an absolute classic from its time. This is jungle before there was a name for the sound. Urban, exuberant, and quintessentially British, the album brought us the wide-eyed joy, stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and unique voice of a woman lovingly referred to as sounding like "Billie Holiday on acid." Here, Nicolette engaged and entranced, flowing beautifully over beats both broken ("Dove Song") and minimal ("No Government"). A must have for drum & bass fans. -DB

Nirvana In Utero (DGC ?93)
This was too good, too raw, too visceral to be co-opted by a corporate alternative movement, although it inevitably was anyway. Today, it sounds neither bored nor old ? the anguished poetics, the accompanying mental and physical wreckage, the churning rhythm section that hits you square in the gut, and a dead man emitting the most convincing primal scream in the ?90s rock'n'roll arena ? on a track called "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter." -MBa

Olivia Tremor Control Dusk at Cubist Castle (Flydaddy ?96)
Elephant 6's strangest offspring collects trash of all musical sorts, recycling it into a beautiful mess. Dusk at Cubist Castle holds things together the most impressively, book-ending a lazy experimental tributary of sound with some of the best pop in recent memory. Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss sing out through fuzzy and slightly out-of-tune guitars, reeling in the ears on tracks like "Define A Transparent Dream" and "NYC-25," and providing ample opportunity to join them with la-la's and oooh's. A pop lover's delight. ?JB

Orb Live 1993 (Island ?93)
This is often overlooked in their catalogue, but anyone who performs electronic music live should listen to how they approach performing in Glastonbury and other huge venues around Europe. All the constituent elements to their songs are presented, but in a variable and spontaneous sounding way that refreshes much beloved material from their first two studio albums. These are long, meandering songs ? but damned if you don't get sucked into each one. Rarely do I listen to an entire triple album at once, much less time after time as I did when this came out. -DD

Outkast ATLiens (LaFace ?96)
Trading their pimped-out steelo for a more spiritual approach Andre & Big Boi took their Georgia argot and gumbo-dipped soul on a cosmic journey, foreshadowing their rep as hip-hop's resident maverick duo and silencing Southern rap naysayers in the process. ?DFC

Pavement Slanted And Enchanted (Matador '92)
It was 1992 and I had just moved to Canada. I had finally located the only cool record shop in town and the only thing that caught my eye there was the first Pavement album. After being nestled within the safety of European indie rock for so many years, Stephen Malkmus's obtuse lyrics, his vocals that danced around the angular melody and those distinctive guitars were a bolt from the blue. The closest reference point I had had was the Fall and I liked this even more. I still do. Maybe American music wasn't going to be so bad after all. -ME

Plug Drum and Bass for Papa (Blue Planet ?96)
Luke Vibert's masterpiece. Obsessive yet spliffed out, and darkly humorous ? some continental types sniffed at it and called it the epitome of British humour. One of the first drum & bass albums to cut up loops that weren't just breakbeats. The songs are just as memorable four years later ? one of the very few pure d & b albums that succeeds all the way through. -DD

Portishead Dummy (Polygram '94)
Strange that it took an electronic duo to reinvent the torch song and make adult pop compelling again. However heavy its beats and sophisticated its samples, Portishead were too diffident and suspicious to produce club hits, so they set about bringing mystery and intrigue back to pop. Songs about heartbreak and loss are old hat, but Dummy's were about the fear of heartbreak and loss. A paralysing terror suffused the album, the cinematically suspenseful arrangements heightening the nakedness and vulnerability in Beth Gibbons? voluptuous, yet wan vocals. More than helping break the Bristol sound, Dummy remains unsurpassed pop noir. -CWo

Propagandhi Less Talk, More Rock (Fat Wreck Chords ?95)
For anyone who thinks they're even the slightest bit punk rock, this album is a must-have. The band wears its politics on its sleeve and isn't afraid to tell you all about their opinions on homophobia, gun control, vegetarianism, sexism and all kind of other isms. And its all set to some of the fastest and melodic music you're likely to hear. Even if you don't agree with the politics, there's no denying the record's pure, unadulterated punk rock aesthetic. ?SG

Finley Quaye Maverick a Strike (Sony '97)
Scottish pop-reggae crooner Quaye made headlines with his brash ego, childlike persona, and "confessions" of being Tricky's (distant) cousin, but it was his distinctively sweet voice and beautiful songwriting that shone through to capture hearts. This is a love album of the highest order; "Falling," "Even After All," and "It's Great When We're Together," still make me melt with each listen. I never travel long distances it. -DB

Radiohead OK Computer (Capitol, ?97)
Pablo Honey made them a one-hit wonder. The Bends was considered a masterpiece and made them full-fledged rock stars, but OK Computer turned Radiohead into the most innovative pop/rock band of the ?90s. The artwork alone described the music: futuristic, incomprehensible, manic and avant-garde. The release of "Paranoid Android," a schizophrenic, six-minute-plus song as their first single made many think this band had committed career suicide, but this was the album of the ?90s for many people. -CL

Raekwon Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... (Loud ?95)
Arguably the most compelling entry in the Wu-Tang catalogue, it captures RZA's dissonant sound science at its zenith. Raekwon freely added words to the rap lexicon through his street-corner slanguistics with formidable support from his effervescent sidekick Ghostface and the rest of the formidable Wu camp. -DFC

Rancid And Out Come the Wolves (Epitaph '95)
Summer of ?95, I took off to Australia; And Out Come the Wolves didn't leave my Walkman for the entire 26 hour flight. The lyrics to "Ruby Soho," "destination unknown," rang in my head from the moment I set foot on Aussie soil to a year later when I returned. Rancid dealt with all the things I was running away from; broken hearts in "You Don't Care Nothin" and starting fresh in "Olympia WA." "As Wicked," "Junky Man" and "Avenues and Alleyways," songs about poverty, hard times and society's corrupted values helped me take a DIY approach and see life beyond my protective bubble world. ?CMi

Refused The Shape of Punk to Come (Burning Heart ?98)
After a string of largely ignored EPs and albums, this Swedish art-core quartet finally made tidal waves with this outrageous fusion of metal, hardcore, jazz and, of course, punk rock. It's a record that is at once political, inventive and punishing and, true to its title was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately it was the band's swan song ? they broke up after its release. Perhaps that's help made it the instant classic it is. -SG

Rheostatics Whale Music (Intrepid ?92)
Recorded immediately after Change of Heart's Smile in the same studio with the same producer, this equally ambitious CanRock masterpiece perfectly captured suburban ennui and escapism, elevating it to high art. Power drills and string sections colour the band's tales of rock'n'roll, suicide, family homophobia, soul-defeating overnight shift work, paranoia and joy. The most consistent chapter in the Rheos' inspiring and prolific body of work. -MBa

The Rip Offs Got A Record (Rip Off '94)
An ultra-snotty, high energy blend of ?60s lo-fi punk attitude with all the catchiness and appeal of good ?70s punk. If the Mummies teamed up the Buzzcocks, you'd be close to what these guys were about. Double guitars, short songs about girls, some disses on cops and a song about Dolemite all made this a punk party classic that was only issued on vinyl. That these guys weren't bigger than bands like NOFX shows there is truly no justice in rock and roll. ?CD

Pete Rock & CL Smooth Mecca And The Soul Brother (Elektra ?92)
Lest we forget, the DJ's name was always first and Pete Rock's highly influential horn-laden production was an exquisite reminder. While the Soul Brother whooped it up in the background, CL Smooth's cryptically verbose flows dropped vital jewels of wisdom, making it a compellingly funky study into ecstatic and didactic realms. -DFC

The Roots Illadelph Halflife (Geffen ?96)
This stunning collection from the world's hardest working hip-hop band resoundingly established the potent unit individually and collectively while effortlessly blending the contributions of a hefty supporting cast. Devastating verbals from lead MC Black Thought and the success of beefed-up sonic experimentation decisively buried the group's ill-fitting "jazz-rap" tag. ?DFC

The Sea and Cake The Biz (Thrill Jockey ?95)
This Chicago easy listening soul group creates great drifting clouds of adult pop, mellow and tuneful, but The Biz is the Sea and Cake record with bite. A Sea and Cake record sounds like no one else, distinct for Sam Prekop's whisper-quiet singing voice and the laid-back vibes, but amongst the layers of The Biz one finds the angular guitar of Archer Prewitt, and especially production touches and percussive energy of John McEntire (Tortoise). Like immersing yourself in a warm bath of beautiful music. -JK

Sense Field Killed for Less (Revelation ?94)
Sense Field redefined the emo genre with this gorgeous and emotionally stirring collection of songs. While some have dismissed this record's slick production as nothing more than latter day REO Speedwagon pap, the fact remains its music and lyrics are a potent combination of rock, pop and soul that is unparalleled. -SG

DJ Shadow Endtroducing (MoWax ?96)
DJ Shadow would add nothing to the pyrotechnics of turntablism, and his greatest innovation might not sit that well with cut'n'paste theoretician's ? it might even be retrograde and thoroughly anti-postmodern: he reconceived of samples and turntables as pop songwriting tools. Endtroducing made the seams in the music transparent and smoothed over the ruptures in the surface of music DJs typically revel in. Subversive or not, DJ Shadow proved anyone could make a killer funky, jazzy pop album with a good enough vinyl collection. ?CWo

Talvin Singh OK (Island ?98)
The debut from British tabla prodigy Talvin Singh is the finest one yet to reconceptualise classical Indian culture for the digital age. Electronic sounds and Hindustani musical traditions are intricately fused by Singh with an attitude that is as playful as it is magnificent. The interaction of musical voices on "Butterfly" and "Eclipse" reach the excited polyphony of a Salman Rushdie novel, while the epic movements on "Traveller" from ambient to drum & bass to ragas to Bollywood reach the zenith of intercultural expression. ?PB

Roni Size & Reprazent New Forms (Talkin' Loud ?97)
From the charging snares on "Brown Paper Bag" to the soul-sweating atmospheres on "Hot Stuff," New Forms remains the most visceral of releases to come out of the drum & bass scene. Size and friends lace their beats with elements of jazz, funk and hip-hop, but the emphasis is ultimately about keeping the floor jumping. A refreshing alternative from the down-tempo sound of their Bristol counterparts, with "Heroes" holding its own as one of the finest dance floor-pop crossovers of the decade. ?PB

The Slackers The Question (Hellcat ?98)
The supple, seamless hooks and horn combo lifted me off my feet and brought back the reasons I fell so in love with ska music in the first place. Keeping ska firmly rooted to its traditional Jamaican roots with calypso and jazz flavours, The Question is well over an hour's worth of music that is never repetitive or tedious. Each track is an original, masterful and knee-knocking experience. -PL

Sleater-Kinney All Hands on the Bad One (Kill Rock Stars ?00)
They take on the Woodstock rapes, media voyeurism, and chauvinist rock, but have no shortage of rock'n'roll fun in the meantime. Even though earlier releases set tongues wagging, here's where it all came together: Carrie Brownstein's Keith Richards-riffage, Corin Tucker's shrill shrieks tempered with tasteful restraint, and Janet Weiss's ability to chime sweet backing vocals while simultaneously kicking serious ass on the drums. The exhilarating sound of rock'n'roll liberation. ?MBa

Sloan One Chord to Another (Murderecords ?96)
Back from the dead, Sloan recovered from the masterpiece that almost scuttled the band, Twice Removed, with the whip-smart and kick-ass One Chord to Another. This is the sound of a band with nothing to lose and everything to prove. Recorded independently, the four songwriters each explored their own pet sounds, which adds a pleasant sonic conflict to the proceedings. Unabashed classic rock power chords clash with softy-wafty pop organ sounds, the theme of a classic Zombies song is recast in a modern rock setting (with trumpets!) and a barrelhouse piano stars in "A Side Wins" as a principle instrument. Savvy and cynical, Sloan has never looked back. -CWa

Smog Knock Knock (Drag City, ?99)
Enlisting the Chicago Children's Choir to sing back-up on your album is always a bonus, but Bill Callahan's ninth album went beyond his usual misery and scathe. Knock Knock is an hilarious account of Callahan's imagination where he not only talks to a squirrel, but also becomes a spaceship and his own moniker, a smog. For a man known for his genius in writing about anguish, this album sure is funny, and of course, full of doom as always. ?CL

Son Volt Trace (Warner ?95)
Jay Farrar's first post Uncle Tupelo record is a much better record than we could have ever hoped for. After coaxing original Tupelo drummer Mike Heirdorn out of retirement and hooking up with the Boquist brothers, Farrar's Son Volt released their first and finest album to date. Chock full of strong country-tinged songs that owe more to Neil Young and Crazy Horse than anything, Trace is the record Farrar may never be able to better. ?SP

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Extra Width (Matador '93)
On their first album, Crypt Style, they brought new meaning to the saying "That's Crazy!" and made music so wild and exciting most people were left in the dust wondering what the hell had just happened. For the second wave of their career, they kept the best parts of this insane blues-punk attack and added a decidedly more funky, structured element that raised the already lofty standard they had set for sleazy, fun rock and roll. You can't argue with any album that ends with a song entitled "The World Of Sex." -CD

Spiritualized Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space (Arista ?97)
Jason Spaceman phones home from the cosmos with one of the greatest modern break-up records. A unique achievement, Ladies and Gentlemen...'s 12 songs resonate because they are all peculiarly and compellingly delivered. The gospel choir that rounds out "Come Together," the panoramic strings that creep into the mix, the raging storm that builds in "Cop Shoot Cop," all sound fantastic. Floating above it all, J. Spaceman plays the erratic blues man, experiencing all of the stages of grief: denial, depression, anger and finally acceptance. High times are guaranteed. Prepare for lift off. ?CWa

Stereolab Emperor Tomato Ketchup (Elektra ?96)
Stereolab were always the coolest thing around, but with Emperor Tomato Ketchup it became clear they were much more than just shoegazers who'd stumbled upon a pile of rare, German records. Sure, all the Krautrock influences were still there ? Can on "Metronomic Underground," Neu! on "Les Yper Sound" and Kraftwerk on "Olv 26" ? yet somehow, a new, funky vibe seemed to elevate vocalists Laetitia and Mary's chanteuse thing from black and white to Technicolor. A record that reveals new layers and dimensions with each listen. -CR

Suba Sao Paolo Confessions (Six Degrees ?99)
His only full-length soars with a deep understanding of all Brazil's musical heritage as transmuted by a brilliant electronic composer. Elements of batucada, samba, and MPB are combined in unusual ways to create highly futuristic yet inviting music. His untimely death shortly after completing this album makes it all the more unique. -DD

Sublime 40 Oz. To Freedom (Skunk '92)
Long before the mainstream success of singles like "What I Got," three Long Beach surfer dudes went into the studio to record their first full-length album. The result was a masterpiece; a perfect amalgamation of countless musical styles. The reggae vibe of "Don't Push"; the upbeat ska of "Date Rape"; "KRS-One"'s mind-blowing folk/rap and hauntingly beautiful acoustic tracks like "Mary" provided the perfect soundtrack for reggae fans, rude boys, punks, gangsters and jocks. Late Sublime singer/guitarist Brad Nowell had something special, unfortunately the mainstream media didn't take notice until it was too late. ?ST

Sunny Day Real Estate Diary (Sub Pop '94)
While no one record could be credited with bringing emocore? to the masses, Sunny Day created something really important and effectual on their debut disc. Influenced by everything from Fugazi and early U2 to Mahler and more, Diary gave more goose-bumps-per-minutes than almost any album in recent memory. A then 17-year old front-boy, Jeremy Enigk's voice could rise like an alter boy and scream like Jung within a matter of moments; note for note, drummer William Goldsmith and guitarist Dan Hoerner poured their hearts out equally through their own instruments. ?DS

Superchunk Here's Where the Strings Come In (Merge ?95)
Releases on band-operated imprint, Merge Records, this is their indie rock masterpiece. The cinematic sweep of these 11 songs capture the searing punk defiance that punctuated Superchunk's early singles and slows things down occasionally to convey more private disappointments. Every song is scrappy, romantic, hyper, pissed-off, catchy and, best of all, alive. Overwhelmed and sincere, Mac McCaughan's lyrics might express a world of self-doubt, but the music couldn't be more sure of itself. Every frantic note is right on the money. ?CWa

Superconductor Bastardsong (Boner ?96)
With a grandiose flourish, Vancouver's Superconductor dispensed with their grunge parody, seven-guitar attack and unleashed the ultimate epic concept album. Full of every musical excess imaginable, Bastardsong included huge helpings of ?70s prog pomposity, experimental instrumental transitions, overwrought ballads, rock anthems and an assortment of analogue keyboard squelch all driven along by Carl Newman's elaborate melodies and absurd storyline. Bastardsong's success lies in its indulgent extravagance, which might explain why neither the band nor the California label that put out the album have released anything since. ?ID

Supergenius Star Wars Breakbeats (Suckadelic ?98)
Before George Lucas sullied his whole Star Wars franchise with the horrific Phantom Menace, producer and Star Wars fan Supergenius was working to maintain the integrity of the series with his Star Wars Breakbeats. By fusing beats with samples from the original trilogy and the Star Wars Holiday Special, Supergenius created a succinct summary of many of the main characters and events, such as the porno-funk of Lando's "One Smooth Character," the mercenary metal of "A Bobadelic Relic," or the Indian-flavoured "The Wisdom Of Yoda." Plus, the CD booklet contains some brilliant action photos created from altered figurines. -TQ

David Sylvian & Robert Fripp The First Day (Virgin '93)
An astounding, groundbreaking album from two innovators with distinctive, uncompromising voices. The union of Fripp's monumental and dizzyingly complex guitar sound and Sylvian's melancholy, lush orchestrations and breathy vocals might seem a forced pairing, but The First Day is an equal collaboration, with Fripp weighing in more heavily on the compositional side, bringing a King Crimson-esque feel to many songs. Sylvian meets the challenge with some of his most powerful vocals and lyrics to date, and adds his own signature expressive guitar tones, layers of shimmering synth tones and otherworldly samples. ?DSF

Henry Threadgill Carry The Day (Columbia ?94)
In Henry Threadgill's vast imagination, nothing is out of the question, and every surreal landscape he dreams up is played within an inch of its life by his Very Very Circus mob. Jazz crashes into tango, is set to a marching beat and then dissolves into a series of instrumental screaming matches. Carry The Day was the first record in Threadgill's short-lived deal with Columbia, and it's as if he threw every idea in his head at them in one shot. Nothing moves in straight lines, and there is a song called "Growing A Big Banana." You couldn't make him up if you tried. -MG

Amon Tobin Permutation (Ninja Tune ?98)
Possibly the best album Ninja Tune has released. Tobin expresses his Anglo-Brazilian rhythmic heritage with broken beats of diverse rhythmic origin, extending the chopping up of beats beyond one or two variations into constantly mutating themes. The orchestral sounds that form the melodic content are grand but not pretentious, giving this record a timeless quality that retro analog-synth worshippers will envy in ten years. -DD

Tortoise Millions Now Living Will Never Die (Thrill Jockey ?96)
Millions Now Living? begins with "Djed," a 20-minute cut-up track that splices half-a-dozen pieces into one and seems to eat itself halfway through yet never loses focus or shows its seams. It's a typical example of what Tortoise were up to then, smashing together elements of jazz, rock, hip-hop and dub with a shrug. Indie rock got more adventurous, and Tortoise turned into a prog band. ?MG

Trans Am Trans Am (Thrill Jockey '95)
Maryland trio Trans Am blind-sided the music world on their 1995 debut, proving that experimental and innovative rock can still kick ass. Their instrumental jams owe as much to ZZ Top as they do to Devo and Brian Eno. Analogue electronic groove and tuned-down ambient hum collided head-on with motoric percussion and maximum power rock riffage on their debut, planting the seeds for this prolific band's continued groundbreaking output. -ID

Twilight Circus Dub Sound System Dub Voyage (M ?00)
Ryan Moore's latest is also his best yet in showcasing his knack for beautiful melodies inside heavy, rootsy dub treatments. This is a man who has internalised not just dub traditions, but has the knowledge of how to write utterly Jamaican songs that never sound derivative of any one artist or epoch. ?DD

Uncle Tupelo Anodyne (Sire '93)
For an alt-country fan, listening to Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne elicits as much sadness as joy. We had our own Lennon and McCartney for an all too brief stint that ended with the album that now defines the band. On songs like "Slate," "New Madrid," and "Give Back the Key to My Heart," Jeff Tweedy's vocal brightness was the perfect counterpoint to Jay Farrar's soulful weariness. Their yin and yang chemistry ultimately turned them into a feuding pair, but they proved forever that a generation raised on punk could play roots music with dirt-road authenticity. ?JL

The Verve Urban Hymns (Virgin '97)
Many thought their 1995 album A Northern Soul would be impossible to beat, but this final album from England's the Verve accomplished just that. Urban Hymns is a rock and soul masterpiece, filled with passion, energy, blood and guts. A snapshot of a band at its best and worst, Urban Hymns projects the volatility and tension that would ultimately cause them to implode. Magnificent from start to finish; "Velvet Morning" still gives me goose bumps. ?RB

Tom Waits Bone Machine (Island ?92)
If Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind is the sound of a journeyman preparing for his death, this is the sound of a cantankerous spirit spewing surreal horror stories with his last breaths, pausing for the occasional beautiful reflection. Marimbas sound like skeletal bones and every guitar squawk echoes an aching joint. This record is so panoramically vivid it doesn't just sound like death and decay ? you can practically smell it. -MBa

Ween Chocolate & Cheese (Warner ?94)
Two years after stoner rock duo Ween first made a mark in the mainstream with "Push Th' Little Daisies," they proved they weren't just one-hit wonders with their first studio album, Chocolate & Cheese. The album spawned the hits "I Can't Put My Finger On It" and "Voodoo Lady," continued their explorations into weirdness on "Mister, Would You Please Help My Pony" and "The HIV Song," and contained the touching instrumental tribute "A Tear For Eddie." But most important, Ween dedicated Chocolate & Cheese to Canadian comic legend John Candy when Kurt Cobain dedications were all the rage. -TQ

Wilco Being There (Reprise '96)
This album still feels like a conversation with an old musician friend whenever I put it on. Especially on disc one, where each song seems like a piece from a lot of familiar stories. We never do find out if there's a happy ending. Disc two is altogether different, as if this is what the guy's band really sounds like. But it's also saying that simply trying to fulfill your dreams as a musician is often enough. It's easy to over-analyze this album and sometimes I wish I wouldn't. I've been told it's great even without my personal baggage. -JS

Yo La Tengo I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One (Matador ?97)
Shimmeringly beautiful. Quietly triumphant. Wrapping your head around Yo La Tengo's rich and lush ode to love is easy enough. Forgetting about it is another matter entirely. From lullaby to catharsis, hitting all the tonal colours in between, this is sinuous and spacy, sultry and stormy. At times it doesn't so much tug at the heartstrings as sever them. A rich and magical affair, Yo La Tengo displays a far broader emotional range than previously exhibited. This is their moment to shine. ?CWa

Zumpano Look What the Rookie Did (Sub Pop ?94)
Look What the Rookie Did announced to an uncaring world the arrival of Canada's greatest melodicist, Carl Newman (also Superconductor and New Pornographers). Playing what he describes as "easy listening prog," Zumpano combines peerless tunefulness with instrumental complexity (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals and horns all stacked Yurtle high), topped with Newman's incomparable, lispy vocals. Proof that an entire album can get stuck in your head all day. -JK