8. Saint Etienne, Good Humor (Sub Pop, 1998)

After taking a breather in the mid-90's, this trio came back into the fold with something different, an album that had no instrumentals, no obscure sound bites from classic British films, no barmy experimental detours--just eleven winsome, melancholy pop songs with vocals. Assisted by Cardigans producer Tore Johansson, Good Humor gazes back to the heyday of '60s/'70s AM radio, largely supplementing Saint Etienne’s proclivity towards electronics/programming with a crack live band. The results are admittedly less challenging and dynamic, and some fans still regard this as their worst album. I’ll argue that it's their best. Chanteuse/secret weapon Sarah Cracknell spent the layoff learning how to make the most out of her limited range (see her solo album) and the deeper, more versatile tone she displays here flawlessly complements the simplicity, sincerity and puppy dog warmth these songs emanate. Everything sparkles, but "Sylvie" is Saint Etienne's finest moment: a lengthy piano intro gives way to an irresistible samba/disco pulse with an astute lyric about a teenaged girl whose boyfriend has just been snatched away by her younger sister. It’s the sort of heavenly pop song that breaks your heart and makes you feel glad to be alive so you can listen to it again.