It could be argued that 1995 marked the end of grunge and post-grunge cornering the alternative rock market (though it reared its head in an uglier visage in the form of Creed and Nickleback a few short years later), and in turn, 1996 is a year in search of an identity--in search of the next genre that would dominate the radio waves and take bands playing dive bars in the middle of nowhere to football stadiums. It didn't really happen, but there were some valiant efforts put forth:
Power-pop: no doubt set off by the popularity of Weezer, a slew of similarly styled bands showed up in '96--notably Ash and Nada Surf, who both owed a debt to the Weezer sound (the latter even shared a producer--The Cars' Ric Ocasek--and a record label). Knoxville's Superdrag showed up with a Buzz Bin hit "Sucked Out" which mixed a punk attitude with the melodic sense of Alex Chilton. Fountains of Wayne even threatened to steal Weezer's spot as the kings of mixing clever phrasing with sugary melodies and crunching riffs (that is, if anyone had actually bought their debut). And artists like Super Deluxe and Jason Falkner, both popular with power-pop genre die-hards, made unsuccessful bids at stardom.
Ska-punk: Third-wave ska, to be exact, was a genre that, not unlike grunge, had been around since the '80s (with bands like Operation Ivy and Fishbone making a small splash in the indie scene), but didn't experience any real success until record companies found the ska-punk haven of Southern California. The scene took off with bands like Sublime and No Doubt (both of whom could only be called ska in the loosest sense of the term) making waves on MTV and rock radio. Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish and Mighty Mighty Bosstones (from Boston, but still) followed, gaining a hit or two with varying levels of success. There was a brief period of time when ska was freaking everywhere and kids were learning how to "skank" (a dance, and no it's not something Christina Aguleria created). The scene experienced something of a burnout and petered out in the early '00s as young, SoCal bands turned their interest to other, far worse genres (read: emo).
To a lesser extent:
Britpop -- which never really caught on in the U.S., despite the best efforts of Oasis (who had some success with What's the Story Morning Glory? and then sort of petered out) and Blur (who are essentially one-hit wonders in our country). Here Britpop is represented most characteristically by Kula Shaker, who are sort of like Oasis if they listened to more Deep Purple and Ravi Shankar. Lush and Ash also fit loosely into the Britpop category (though the two bands don't sound anything alike).
We also see the effects of a band like Green Day going platinum seven times (in the words of Kid Rock) with the seminal punk band Bad Religion actually getting some airplay thanks to a slick production also by Ric Ocasek (hey, the guy was hot in '96...not physically "hot," cause that guy is obviously a hideous, skeletal man-lady, but his career was certainly on fire).
There's some other bands too, that don't quite fit into any sort of genre, unless "chick-rock" counts (the similarly named Lush and Luscious Jackson), or maybe if acoustic college rock is its own genre (Jackopierce).
I got nothin' else to say, so: enjoy.
It Was A Good Decade, Vol. V, 1996
1. Birdbrain - Youth of America
2. Kula Shaker - Hey Dude
3. Hayden - Bad As They Seem
4. Ash - Girl From Mars
5. Superdrag - Destination Ursa Major
6. Nada Surf - Treehouse
7. Fountains of Wayne - Radiation Vibe
8. Jason Falkner - Miracle Medicine
9. Super Deluxe - She Came On
10. Imperial Teen - You're One
11. Cowboy Mouth - Jenny Says
12. Luscious Jackson - Naked Eye
13. Lush - Ladykillers
14. Limblifter - Screwed It Up
15. Bad Religion - A Walk
16. Goldfinger - Here In Your Room
17. Reel Big Fish - Beer
18. The Refreshments - Mekong
19. The Borrowers - Beautiful Struggle
20. Stir - Looking For
21. Thermadore - Amerasian
22. Jackopierce - Vineyard
Click the album art to download or just click here.