Best of 1996

On February 1, 2017 I revised this list with the revelation that Mineral's 'Power of Failing' was released on both CD and vinyl in February of 1996. More on that below, but most of the text here was written in 2010. The 2010 list was only a top-10, and those were moved down to 2-11. 12-20 are new additions, but many were moved up from the "notable" section. Updates will be in italics.

**own on vinyl
*available on vinyl

Top 20 Albums of 1996:

1. Mineral- The Power of Failing**
The debut album from this short-lived yet highly-influential band. I saw them in a hole-in-the-wall club in Birmingham back in 1997 and heard them play most of the album live; I would give anything for a video of that show- FOUND!. Lyrically possibly my favorite album of all time. I used to have a silly daydream about the Gloria Record re-recording this album in a style similar to their Start Here. In 2010 a Japanese label put out a remastered version of this album packaged with Mineral's second release EndSerenading called the Complete Collection. Most notably this new 2-CD set includes a handful of 7" tracks that had previously been unavailable in any other form besides vinyl. 2015 update: Both Mineral albums were re-released on vinyl and CD with tons of bonus tracks! And I was able to see them perform in Milan, Italy in 2015.

For the longest time I really had no idea when this album was released. For awhile I considered it a 1996 release because I am fairly certain a copy of it was sent to the radio station I deejayed for. But then all research and sites listed it as an early 1997 release. Near the end of January 2017 I took part in a Twitter discussion debate and discussion in which many of us were confused and disagreed. We found some screenshots of archived websites that made everyone think it was released on vinyl only in 1996 and then CD in 1997. Finally I just emailed Chris Simpson himself, and he confirmed this official information:
October 1995- album recorded
February 1996- 8-song vinyl LP released and 10-song CD released by Crank! Records
February 1997- 10-song CD re-released with Epitaph distribution (this is the most common release date seen online)
(Also, the day I am writing this, Feb. 1, 2017, Discogs lists the LP with a 1995 release, which is incorrect.)

Screenshot of the current Crank! Records website (note date is for CD re-issue):

(Screenshot of an archived version of the Mineral website from 1997. Implies maybe only vinyl release, but CD was in fact also released in February of 1996.)

2. Over the RhineGood Dog Bad Dog
I discovered Over the Rhine at Cornerstone in 1997. I had heard one song of theirs, “I’m Happy with Myself”, a few years earlier and I didn’t like it. Well, I was in for a huge surprise as I waited for Adam Again to play. Over the Rhine had just put this album out less than a year earlier, and I heard every single song on it before Cornerstone ended; they performed twice and I was in awe at both shows. I bought the CD at the Cornerstone merch tent and the rest is history. My wife’s favorite band, and the band we have most often seen together. We even worked their merch table twice at recent Atlanta shows. Band is currently at work on their 10th studio LP. Best song: “Etcetera Whatever”

3. Poor Old Lu- A Picture of the Eighth Wonder
I am not sure how much I realized it at the time, but this album was a pretty drastic shift for this band. Much more epic and layered than their previous albums, and apparently almost entirely written in the studio. The first time I saw Poor Old Lu was March 1996 at the Ace of Clubs in Nashville. They played a brief set; they were part of a showcase with Mortal, Seven Day Jesus, Black Eyed Sceva and Twin Sister. I was there with Phil and maybe Keith. As we waited for the show to start Aaron Sprinkle went walking through the crowd, right up to our table, and handed me a CD. He kept on walking- I would not actually meet or talk to him until years later. The CD was an Alarma Records sampler with a two new Lu tracks, both from this album, which had yet to be released. Aaron an Nick are currently in Fair, who just released their 2nd LP, Disappearing World. Jesse Sprinkle continues to put out solo albums and drums for all kinds of bands. Just discovered this is album named incorrectly on Amazon, that is wild. Poor Old Lu is one of the only truly original bands I have ever heard. They sound like no other band in the world. Best song: “Hello Sunny Weather”

4. Stavesacre- Friction
At the time this was a so-called super group, but I wasn’t into the primary band that led to this one: The Crucified. I did own one Crucified CD, but I never listened to (at the time I didn’t know it, but it is all demos: Take Up Your Cross and Nailed). It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I really appreciated the Crucified, when I heard the remastered Pillars of Humanity, which is incredible. Anyway, lead singer Mark Salomon has his same role here, although he did change his singing style. Then the Crucified’s bass player Jeff Bellew became Stavesacre’s guitarist, Focused’s Dirk Lemmenes on bass, and the Blamed’s lead singer Jeremy Moffett on drums. Anyway, all these guys are very talented, but this album is greater than the sum of its parts. I remember reading in some hard-core magazine that this was the first album they ever gave a perfect score to. At the time I don’t think there had ever been an album I so highly anticipated. Stavesacre is somewhat still active, releasing an EP in 2009. Mark Salomon also fronts Neon Horse, and guitarist Ryan Dennee and Dirk are in a new band called the Lost Chorus (with Andy Zipf on vocals), about to release their first EP. Best song: “Threshold”

5. The Violet Burning- self-titled
In 1994 my brother found an album called Third Wave: The Reality Rock Compilation. It contained a lot of bands that at the time we had never heard of (and a couple we had). Our favorite song on the compilation quickly became “Low” by some band called the Violet Burning. This is the only song we would hear from this band for a couple years. Well in 1996 we heard “Low” on the radio, but in a drastically different and superior form. (Didn’t know it at the time, but the version on Third Wave is a demo.) In these days there were not that many ways to find out about bands. Well, my brother started doing college visits this year and one of the places we went was Wheaton outside Chicago. At the time there was this incredible music store there called True Tunes. We visited it, I remember buying a Fold Zandura shirt and the 77s- 88; my brother talked to the owner (John Thompson), and he pulled a copy of this album out from behind the counter. I remember him trying to give us some kind of disclaimer about the lyrical content. Anyway, we were blown away. This is far and away the best Violet Burning album, on a completely different level than the rest of Michael Pritzl’s work. That is partially because of song-writing, but also because he had a ridiculous cast of musicians help him with it. Pritzl is still very active, but the quality of his work in the 2000’s does not approach what he did in the 90’s. Saw him in concert in 2007 though and it was excellent. Best song: “Low”

6. Jimmy Eat WorldStatic Prevails**
I discovered Jimmy Eat World in 1999 when someone let me borrow Clarity, which of course blew me away and remains one of my favorite albums of all time. I remember being on a track team trip in the Spring of 2000 listening to this album for the first time, right after I had ordered it. (My friend John had just bought Mare Vitalis by the Appleseed Cast, and I listened to it just after this. Quite a bus ride musically!) I was surprised by the angst on the album, and the “yelling” because all Jimmy Eat World after this is much more “pretty". As different as this album is from current Jimmy Eat World, it is a must-have for any fan of the band. The band’s new album was just completed and will be released in late 2010. This is the only Jimmy Eat World album I don’t own a vinyl copy of- the cheapest copy on Amazon right now is $389 (pretty sure I could find a copy for less than $100, but that is still a lot). Best song: “World is Static”

7. Velour100- Fall Sounds
I bought this album and Driver Eight’s Watermelon at the exact same time. Their release dates might have even been the same day and the packaging design is similar (same type of paper, which was different than most CDs). Very different musically than most of what Tooth and Nail was putting out at the time, much more artsy. Guitarist/songwriter is Trey Many, currently a booking agent and part-time musician. Most recently he has collaborated with David Bazan. This album sounds exactly like the title- it is autumn music. Very chill, but at times with crazy guitars and walls of feedback. Original lead singer was Amon Krist for this and debut EP, then Tess Wiley, Sydney Rentz, Karen Oliver and finally Rosie Thomas. The final Velour100 EP is impressively on eMusic. At some point (maybe around 2005?) Rosie and Trey had a new band called Half-Life Souvenier and might have even toured, but they never recorded again. Best song: “Joy”

8. R.E.M.- New Adventures in Hi-Fi*
This was the first R.E.M. album I bought at the time of it’s release. I liked R.E.M. as far back as I can remember into the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1995 that I started buying the albums and then saw them live. This is easily one of my favorite R.E.M. albums, partially due to its diversity. You can credit that diversity due to the fact that the band recorded a lot of the album on tour (the tour I saw), rather than a single studio session. The band's entire catalog is now on eMusic. Best song: “Leave”

9. Aunt Bettys- self-titled
If you don’t already know, this is another album from Mike Knott (he has 35+ LPs, only one of which is available on eMusic). Band line-up and style is similar to his solo album “Fluid”, but with a big-budget recording session. He managed to land a mainstream record deal for this band, and really no reason why this couldn’t have been big on mainstream rock radio. Mike decided to push some button’s lyrically this time around, and honestly he had probably been censored by his previous labels. Three or four of the songs are rewrites of some of his older tunes. Best song: “Skinny Bones Jones” (about the Rolling Stones)

10. Jeremy Enigk- Return of the Frog Queen*
The first time I heard this album I thought it was weird. REALLY weird. I discovered Sunny Day Real Estate after they broke up for the first time in 1995, so I could not wait for something new from Jeremy. This album is not what I expected. At first I was extremely disappointed, but I have grown to love it. It features a 21-piece orchestra and lyrics that seems like nonsense. Jeremy has been the most active he has ever been over the last 5 years, and I greatly prefer his more recent work (best LP is World Waits). It is all on eMusic. Best song: "Shade and the Black Hat"

11. Fiona Apple- Tidal*
For years, I associated Fiona Apple with the song "Criminal", and that was it. I heard it on the radio, and liked it, but never pursued her. I saw the video and thought it was disturbing, so that was a turn-off. It wasn't until all the controversy surrounding her third and most recent album, Extraordinary Machine (If you don't know the story, it is fascinating, read it here) that I really started to become a big fan. My wife has been a fan since the beginning though, buying this album when it came out and the spectacular sophomore album When the Pawn... I took her to see Fiona Apple in concert for her birthday in 2006, you can read about that on my blog, here is the link to that old post. Best song: "Shadowboxer"

12. BloomsdayThe Day the Colors Died.
The EP was better, but still great stuff. Band was too short-lived.

13. Driver EightWatermelon
The first Matt McCartie full-length project. And even though he has remained somewhat active ever since, has yet to put out another full-length. His newest band Theft released an EP last year that you can get on iTunes. He also released some songs on the internet under the name "National" before The National ever got popular.

14. The CardigansThe First Band on the Moon*

15. Pearl JamNo Code* 

16. No Knife- Drunk on the Moon* 
Somehow didn't discover this band until the late 2000's, and I didn't get this album until Dec. 2010. A decent debut, but nothing close to how good they would become.

17. Soulfood 76Original Soundtrack. Listened to this album last week for the first time in years. It is really good, but for some reason I don't go back to it often. The best of the three Soulfood LPs. Saw them put on a great show at Cornerstone '97.

18. Fountains of WayneFountains of Wayne*
I didn’t really start my Fountains of Wayne obsession until 2003, but I did like the “Radiation Vibe” single back in ’96. A good debut, but they got much better in the 2000s.

19. Kevin Clay- Watch Me Fall

20. Roadside Monument- Beside this Brief Hexagonal

Top 5 EPs of 1996:
1. Sixpence None the Richer- Tickets for a Prayer Wheel
Contains extra songs from the This Beautiful Mess sessions, which of course are all amazing. Healer became an encore favorite of the band's for years, and Dresses is one of my top 5 Sixpence songs. Long enough to be a full-length album, just make sure you stay away from the inexplicable "Love, Salvation" remix.

2. The Prayer Chain- Antarctica
Not really an EP, but I am putting it here none-the-less. Contains 5 outtakes from Mercury, all of which are incredible songs. They had been previously available on the Mercurious box set, but that was limited to a very small number, so most people, like me, were hearing them for the first time here. Also contains a fun live recording from the same era.

3. The Lassie Foundation- California
Ironic and interesting that this and the previous EP in my list were released the same year. Contained the same core members of the Prayer Chain, with drummer Wayne Everett moving to vocals and bass player Eric Campuzano moving to guitar. The debut from the band which went on to be way more prolific than the Prayer Chain. Check out what Campuzano has been up to most recently. Most of Lassie's catalog is on eMusic, but not this one. Also, Jeff Schroeder, now of the Smashing Pumpkins, is an original and current member of the Lassie Foundation.

4. Black Eyed Sceva- 5 Years, 50,000 Miles Davis
The band's final release before changing it's name to Model Engine. Where are you Jeremy Post?!

5. Dear Ephesus- A View of Epic Proportions

Other notable 1996 albums I own:
Aleixa- Honeylake. Best female-fronted industrial album I have ever heard. Kevin131 is a musical genius.
Cake- Fashion Nugget. Fun music! Listened to this a lot in Zambia, not sure why. Never a huge fan of the band as a whole, but saw them in concert in 2005 and it was terrific.
Common Children- Skywire. Solid debut album, but they would go on to release to much better LPs with Delicate Fade and the Inbetween Time. Lead singer/songwriter Marc Byrd's current project is the instrumental band Hammock.
Counting CrowsRecovering the Satellites
Dakoda Motor Co.- Railroad. It was probably a mistake for them to ever release an album after Davia left the band, and I think even they would agree now. They had signed a mainstream deal though and I guess the opportunity was too good to pass up. This was originally the end but they shockingly did reunite (original line-up with Davia) a few years ago to play some shows and I wouldn't be surprised if they perform together in the future. They had planned to record an album in 2007, but it never happened because they are all too busy.
Nada Surf- High/Low.** Just like Fountains of Wayne, I didn’t get into Nada Surf until 2003. Unlike Fountains of Wayne, I HATED their 1996 single “Popular.” Hard to believe it is the same band, because they are terrific now.
Sunsites (Jesse Sprinkle). Instrumental album from Poor Old Lu's drummer. All acoustic guitar and cello, would pave the way for his band the World Inside and his solo albums.
Lost Dogs- The Green Room Serenade. Terry, Derri and Mike have remained active, still touring and recording to this day. Unfortunately this is the last album of theirs I really got into. I have thought about buying their most recent work, as I have heard it was great. If someone of influence wanted to send me a copy of Old Angel I would listen to it and review it here. (And unfortunately, unless I get it for free, I'll probably never hear it; too bad their stuff is not on eMusic.)
Morella’s Forest- Ultraphonic Hiss. When I first got it I was extremely disappointed, as it seemed a drastic departure from the amazing Super-Deluxe. Took me years to appreciate it.
Mortal- self-titled. Not a bad album, but seemed forced in a way. This came after their so called "break-up", and after Jyro and Jerome had started touring as Fold Zandura. A pretty big let-down after Wake.
Over the Rhine- The Darkest Night of the Year. Great Christmas album.
ArtCore Volume 2. One of the best compilation album series ever, I am still waiting for Volume 3!
Seven Day Jesus- The Hunger. Really liked this album at the time, and loved it even more when I saw them live. Unfortunately the follow-up was one of the most disappointing and depressingly terrible albums I have ever heard. Pretty much lost all interest in the band after that.
77s- Echoes of Faith (Played Naked). One of the best live albums I have ever purchased. It is all acoustic and in a way was a greatest hits album.
Tonic- Lemon Parade.
Vigilantes of Love- V.O.L. Sort-of a greatest hits album, but the three new songs were key and are three of the best Bill has ever written.
Hoi Polloi- Only Flying (demo cassette). Three final songs before the band called it quits. Too bad, because possibly the three best songs they ever recorded.

Notable 1996 albums I don’t own but wish I did:
Beck- Odelay
Belle and Sebastian- Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister
Better Than Ezra- Friction, Baby
K’s Choice- Paradise in Me
Rage Against the Machine- Evil Empire
Superdrag- Regretfully Yours
The Wallflowers- Bringing Down the Horse
Tool- ├ćnima