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Year-End Close-Out

We've got 1998's best albums in stock, but they're going fast.

Massive Attack
Mezzanine
(Virgin)

Trip-hop pioneers Robert del Naja, Grant Marshall and Andrew Vowles have been at this game longer than practically anyone, but they continue to sound ahead of their time. Mezzanine is a cogent cluster of tenebrous grooves, otherworldly noises and bewitching vocals from a cast that includes onetime Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser. Some of the Nineties' most intriguing sounds can be found in this one convenient package.

Propellerheads
Decksanddrumsandrockandroll
(Dreamworks)

Like the Chemical Brothers' Dig Your Own Hole, the latest from Propellerheads is so unbelievably catchy that it can produce feelings of guilt and suspicion among true electro-believers. I mean, dance music isn't supposed to have this many hooks, is it? But in the end, resistance is futile. The disc functions equally well as pop music and booty motivator.

Sugar Plant
Happy/Trance Mellow
(World Domination)

This little-known Tokyo combo swaddles pop drones in electronic quilts that are warm and comforting. Happy, the first disc here, is a bit more upbeat than Trance Mellow, its well-named companion, but the differences are relative. Sugar Plant whips up aural environments that perform a new-age purpose without succumbing to the genre's trademark banality.

HARD ROCK
Monster Magnet
Powertrip
(A&M)

When Monster Magnet lead singer Dave Wyndorf swears he wasn't joking when he made this record, well, he's joking--sort of. The good times that were had while taking this Powertrip can be heard in every throaty scream, pummeling power chord and instrumental freakout on the disc. The metal is heavy, but the musicians' hearts are light.

Rocket From the Crypt
RFTC
(Interscope)

These San Diegans have never hidden their fondness for old-time rock and roll, so the spunky horns and quasi-rockabilly gestures that turn up on RFTC don't come as a shock. But the Rocketmen have never played with more potency and zeal, and each and every song makes it into orbit with fuel to spare.

Season to Risk
Men Are Monkeys
(Thick)

Men Are Monkeys definitely isn't over-produced. In fact, it's barely produced at all--but its serrated sound has everything to do with its effectiveness. Big riffs and brittle drums collide in an occasionally atonal thunderstorm of righ-teous racket courtesy of a yet-to-be-discovered quartet from Kansas City, Missouri.

Slayer
Diabolus in Musica
(American)

In some ways, the years have caught up with Slayer: Thanks to the legions of imitators it's spawned, the band no longer sounds as indescribably hellish as it once did. But experience has benefited the players, who have learned how to channel their rage into brutally efficient salvos that will leave death-metal aficionados feeling shaken and stirred.

Rob Zombie
Hellbilly Deluxe
(Geffen)

With each passing year, Rob Zombie becomes more of a cartoon--and since he was mighty cartoony in the first place, that's really saying something. Still, Zombie remains a Halloweener for the ages, and he's sharp enough to dress up his bottomless bellowing with industrial-strength pounders that are more treat than trick.

HIP-HOP
Aceyalone
A Book of Human Language
(Project Blowed)

E.M. Hayes Jr., formerly an enrollee in Freestyle Fellowship, is barely on the hip-hop map these days, and that's distressing, because A Book of Human Language is a brilliant piece of work. Jazzy beats a la Native Tongues serve as the backdrop for rap erudition for the ages. This is one Book that will have you riveted until the final chapter.

Black Star
Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
(Rawkus)

Conscious hip-hop seemed on the road to extinction a few years back, but young, gifted artists such as Mos Def and Talib Kweli are proving that the movement still has a lot of life in it. Without seeming either preachy or didactic, they offer a convincing argument that what's being said in rap songs matters as much as the sounds that surround them.

Gang Starr
Moment of Truth
(Noo Trybe)

Guru and DJ Premier make up one of the peak partnerships in hip-hop history: The former is blessed with an eloquent flow and a love of knowledge he's not afraid to share, and the latter is a pioneering mixologist who's able to stay current without seeming to paddle upstream. Moment of Truth may not be their most towering triumph, but it's yet another smart, solid LP from one Gang that belongs together.

OutKast
Aquemini
(LaFace)

Southern hip-hop doesn't begin and end with the Master P brigade; Dre and Big Boi, known jointly as OutKast, also assemble songs whose beats have Georgia and its neighbors on their minds. But what lifts Aquemini to another level is the twosome's ability to merge the forbidden-fruit aspect of hardcore rap with words of wisdom. The disc brings old and new schools together under the same roof.

RZA
RZA as Bobby Digital
(Gee Street/V2)

Being prolific can have its drawbacks--just ask Prince. But even though RZA's production blueprint no longer seems as fresh as it once did due to the innumerable recordings he's overseen, it works well on Bobby Digital, an elaborate blaxploitation epic whose fantastic elements take the edge off the misogyny and anti-intellectualism that mark many of the rhymes. Let's just hope the movie is as good as the soundtrack.

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