30. Saint Etienne, So Tough (Warner Brothers, 1993)

I've never set foot in London (or the UK, for that matter), but this album makes me feel like I've spent many moons there. I admit most of the local references within the lyrics of opener "Mario's Cafe" don't register with me. Fortunately, the music certainly does with its wide-eyed innocence, gliding synthesized strings and Sarah Cracknell's adorably pure, untrained vocal. So Tough adds significant focus to the postmodern cut-and-paste aesthetic of this trio’s uneven debut, and it’s a music-geek’s joyride through decades of AM and FM radio. One minute, they're contracting Van Dyke Parks to compose an impossibly lovely orchestral arrangement for "Hobart Paving"; the next, they're liberally sampling the swirling guitars of Rush's "The Spirit of Radio" for their own "Conchita Martinez". "Avenue", however, is the centerpiece--a soaring, sighing impressionist epic that never loses a grip on its audience, even as it cracks abruptly like thunder or threatens to be forever whisked away by the wind.