Top Ten Albums of 1996

1. R.E.M., New Adventures in Hi-Fi (Warner Bros.)
Once upon a time, I liked R.E.M. in a half-hearted way–despite obtuse front-mumbler Michael Stipe. Come 1996, I find myself really loving R.E.M.–largely because of insightful front-man Michael Stipe. Go figure. I can’t.

2. Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, Introducing Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci (Mercury/PolyGram)
It took awhile for these Welsh psychedelicians to grow on me, but now they’re attached to my singalong gland like lichen to a cairn. If only I could understand what I was singing.

3. Einsturzende Neubauten, Ende Neu (Mute/EEG)
An austere, mature industrial record. “Stella Maris” may be the year’s most beautiful song–despite the fact that its rhythm is generated by a chain being dragged over a metal plate. Cool.

4. Butthole Surfers, Electriclarryland (Capitol)
Sell-out? No way! Subversion? You bet! Just watch a group of grade-school kids singing about “the ever-present football-player rapist” if you think otherwise.

5. Lughead, Hold My Life (Paint Chip)
This family fave spent more time on the living-room stereo than any other disk this year. No token local pick, either, as it sounds boss next to any city’s best offerings.

6. P.J. Harvey and John Parrish, Dance Hall at Louse Point (Island/PolyGram)
Polly Harvey broods, moans and screams to beat the band. John Parrish makes all the sounds a beaten band should make. Scary and lovely, like a ticking Valentine’s day card.

7. Peter Wolf, Long Line (Reprise/Warner Bros.)
Former J. Geils Band singer Peter Wolf gets in touch with his inner blues-man, then shows just how razor fine that long line between the blues and rock & roll can be.

8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Murder Ballads (Reprise/Warner Bros.)
You have to laugh to keep from screaming. You have to scream to keep from laughing. You’re going to Hell either way just for listening.

9. Prong, Rude Awakening (Epic/Sony)
Prong put out the year’s most accomplished loud rock album, and what did they get? Dumped by their label and scattered to the winds, that’s what. Forget justice, just bang your head and sigh.

10. Kula Shaker, K (Columbia/Sony)
This year’s “guilty pleasure” entry. I hate myself for loving this pretentious piece of pretty-boy pablum. Oh well. I’ve hated myself for worse things.