Best Songs: "Iron Mic," "Mean Machine," "10 Seconds Down"
What Makes the Record Pop: Sugar Ray's debut was creative and unique, showcasing a jokester band with songs about muscle cars and boxing. They brandished searing guitar riffs, wildly-flung vocal work, and boxing sound clips, record scratches, and silly little skits between the tracks. They successfully merged hard rock with goofy punk with hip hop, produced by DJ Lethal of House of Pain fame.
9. House of Pain - House of Pain (1992)
Best Songs: "Jump Around," "Top O' the Morning To Ya," "Shamrocks and Shenanigans"
What Makes the Record Pop: House of Pain were completely original as a hip hop trio, the first to bring the hardcore Irish-American hooligan to the forefront. In the same vein of Cypress Hill and the Beastie Boys, who had been poking around the genre beforehand, House of Pain blew people around with their sick beats, their freestyle-like vocals, and their gritty video for "Jump Around." Having Cypress Hill guru DJ Muggs behind the production board is what really makes this record pop though.
8. Fumbling Towards Ecstasy - Sarah McLachlan (1993)
Best Songs: "Possession," "Hold On," "Fear"
What Makes the Record Pop: The thing that really sticks out here is just how well the songs are composed, a rustic, sweet, and pensive sort of precursor to one of my favorite albums of all time, Azure Ray's Hold On Love. Nearly every song here is high quality.
7. To Bring You My Love - PJ Harvey (1995)
Best Songs: "To Bring You My Love," "Long Snake Moan," "Down By the Water"
What Makes the Record Pop: Before there was Chelsea Wolfe, there was Polly Jean Harvey. The tracks on this record are ominous and eerie, heartfelt and well composed, and even a little theatrical at times. PJ was the first of her kind that I had ever heard in 1995, and the sounds on "Down By the Water" really stood out to me in the burgeoning alternative rock genre. This is a brooding album with a lot of attitude, and I consider it landmark in many ways.
6. Live Through This - Hole (1994)
Best Songs: "Violet," "Miss World," "Doll Parts"
What Makes the Record Pop: This record reminds me of the novel Frankenstein. There are some who believe that it was ghostwritten by Percy Shelley, not Mary Shelley. The same was said of this album with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, and I can totally see it by listening to some of the chord progressions and the lyrical tendencies. But, that doesn't make it any less of a solid album all the way through. Mary Shelley totally wrote Frankenstein.
5. Dummy - Portishead (1994)
Best Songs: "Sour Times," "It's a Fire," "Biscuit," "Glory Box"
What Makes the Record Pop: Speaking of landmark albums, this is the first one I'd ever heard to mix the best elements of hip hop and alternative rock together as one. It's PJ Harvey meets Cypress Hill, a slash of brilliance that forced me to re-examine how I had previously viewed music.
4. Around the Fur - Deftones (1997)
Best Songs: "My Own Summer (Shove It)," "Mascara," "Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)," "MX"
What Makes the Record Pop: Deftones were really the first band to mix heavy, brutal guitar chords with feedback-laden melodies. Chino Moreno's voice and lyrics are heartfelt but cynical, his scream feral and seething. This fashion-themed record is special, a mature step up from their debut.
3. Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins (1993)
Best Songs: "Rocket," "Soma," "Mayonaise," "Spaceboy"
What Makes the Record Pop: This one is good all the way through, the last Pumpkins record before Billy Corgan and company dove into the experimental swimming pool. Siamese Dream features thick, searing, feedback-heavy guitars that challenges rock and roll music, challenges the establishment of melodic dissonance, and challenges tendencies of the age-old lullaby.
2. Grace - Jeff Buckley (1994)
Best Songs: "Grace," "Last Goodbye," "So Real," "Lover, You Should've Come Over"
What Makes the Record Pop: This album is like a painting, or a series of paintings by the artist you've never heard of but now that you hsve, you can no longer go on without. It exudes bohemian brilliance, dreamscape-inspired lyrics, and a diverse array of original ballads, classic rock overtures, and covers that find a way to reinvent themselves completely (i.e. "Lilac Wine," "Corpus Christi Carol").
1. Without You I'm Nothing - Placebo (1998)
Best Songs: "You Don't Care About Us," "Ask For Answers," "Without You I'm Nothing," "My Sweet Prince"
What Makes the Record Pop: This record is post-punk brilliance, an androgynous effort that shatters images by way of creating them. The songs are well composed, the lyrics wax poetic, and every song flows on a record that works from beginning to end.