1. Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile (Interscope/nothing): One of rock 'n' roll's great aesthetic achievements. One of its most thrilling guitar records. "We're in This Together" is a near-perfect, breathtakingly literate song.
2. Those Bastard Souls, Debt and Departure (V2): The best album no one paid attention to this year. My roommate says this band is a cross between Big Star and Guided by Voices. He forgot Jeff Buckley and Neil Young. "Here in the palm of my hand/ The tale of an angry young man/ Who discovered an old path to love/ Here in the wake of your flood." Singer Dave Shouse knows me too well.
3. Beck, Midnite Vultures (Geffen): The Frank Zappa tradition of great records that orbit the moon continues. Couplets such as "Automatic bzooty/ Zero to tutti frutti" are the hilarious stuff of novelty records. But the arrangements are too masterful ("Mixed Bizness," "Hollywood Freaks," "Sexx Laws") to be pushed ultimately to that sideline. That's what saved Frank, and that's what will save Beck Hansen.
4. Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles (Epic): Rock 'n' roll built itself on anthems. "Rock Around the Clock." "Johnny B. Goode. "Hey Hey My My (Into the Black)." "Smells Like Teen Spirit." This band tries to write anthems with every song, which is why this album rules. Tom Morello looks more and more like The Edge every day.
5. Mos Def, Black on Both Sides (Rawkus): This man's soul blazes with passion. His jazzy cries for unity and defiance in the face of racism inspire me, even if I can't possibly relate to that struggle.
6. Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin (Warner Bros.): This album was standard issue at SonicNet this year. I was slower to catch on to it than others. This is a "Citizen Kane" type of album; I catch something new with each listen. "The Spark That Bled" and "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" both float wonderfully.
7. Moby, Play (V2): The Alan Lomax archival samples make this more than an impressive swirl of noise from this eccentric techno craftsman they make it a stunning meditation on American popular music this century. They tie together the rhythms and the softer gospel sounds Moby was going for anyway.
8. Ol' Dirty Bastard, N***a Please (Elektra): Masters of a trade don't need to play by the rules. They have the freedom to make new ones as they go along. This album sounds like the work of a sexist, cocaine-addicted sociopath with no attention span. Which is exactly the point. Brilliant.
9. Richard Thompson, Mock Tudor (Capitol): Thompson is rock's great technician. He may get cryptic or a little droll, but there's no denying he is a talented songwriter, guitarist, lyricist and singer. Here he focuses on the suburbs of London. And makes them interesting. "Hard on Me" rocks.
10. Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock (Kill Rock Stars): "The Size of Our Love" makes me cry. "Get Up" makes me dance. Nuff said.
Year's most memorable moment in music: I covered Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy's concert together Oct. 2 at the Roseland Ballroom. Rage, about a third of the way into their set, played the song "Bullet in Your Head," which begins with a thick, slow-burning bass riff and builds into this colossal riff with a screaming, wrenching climax. All around me, the audience went nuts; the young Asian girl behind me repeatedly knocked me into a guard rail by accident. I began to sweat as the final guitar licks came crashing down. The song finished. The band stopped for two minutes. The energy did not. There was an audible hum from the crowd, one part exuberance, the other part exhaustion. I had never experienced such a prolonged suspension of belief. That hum is why Rage Against the Machine is rock 'n' roll's most important band.