WHY THEM? This Los Angeles punk band, led by singer-guitarist Brody Armstrong, scored an unexpected hit when L.A.'s KROQ began spinning the anthemic ''City of Angels'' (from 2002's Sing Sing Death House) earlier this year. Soon they had a video on MTV and were signed to Sire. WHY NOW? Their 160-proof rock is a shot of righteous musical moonshine. It ain't smooth, but it's sure satisfying. WHAT GIVES? As a wild child in her native Melbourne, Australia, Armstrong formed her first group, Sourpuss, at 15. She's less of a raging malcontent these days. ''Who wants to smash cars and burn s -- - down their whole life? It's kind of pointless,'' says the 24-year-old, who launched the Distillers (from left, Tony, Ryan Sinn, and Andy Outbreak) in 1998. They're recording their third album with producer Gil Norton (the Pixies) and will join this summer's Lollapalooza. SAY WHAT? ''We have really eclectic tastes,'' says Armstrong. ''I grew up on Tom Petty, and that stuff is still really big to me.'' -- Tom Sinclair
WHY HIM? After lacing 2001's lush, glitch-tastic Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives with diced rap a cappella, 28-year-old producer Scott Herren (a.k.a. Prefuse 73) says he was attacked for ''using the oppressed man's vocals for aesthetic value.'' Nevertheless, Herren's startlingly fresh found-sound style is already being borrowed by some of the biggest names in electronica. WHY NOW? His latest, One Word Extinguisher, is an even more diverse and dynamic adventure than his first. WHAT GIVES? This Miami-born, Atlanta-raised, Barcelona-based beatnik boasts more aliases than Jennifer Garner. Herren first explored electronica under the moniker Delarosa and Asora. Then came the experimental efforts of Savath + Savalas. As Prefuse 73, he fuses the future with hip-hop. WHO CARES? Anyone from iPod-packin' technophiles to die-hard rap fans taking a break from braggadocio. SAY WHAT? ''I try to make it simple for people when they ask me, 'What do you consider [your music]?''' he says. ''I'm like, 'Man, it's hip-hop.''' -- Neil Drumming
WHY HER? With her sharp wit and sense of self, the 26-year-old rapper makes a musical mockery of the existing glammed-up gangsta-bitch mythos. WHY NOW? Last year, critics went bananas for her gritty, revealing debut, Attack of the Attacking Things: The Dirty Mixes. Grae, who has a history of prickly courtships with major labels, would love a bigger budget for her vocal venom (Shady Records, pay attention!), but regardless, her guerrilla assault continues this month with the self-released The Bootleg Album. WHAT GIVES? Born in South Africa to jazz-musician parents, Grae became known in recent years for unconventional -- even shocking -- collaborations with underground producers like Herbaliser, Mr. Len, and Da Beatminerz. WHO CARES? To date, college students, indie-rap fans, and critics. But Grae craves a more diverse audience: ''You don't have to f -- -in' like it,'' she says, ''but at least know that I'm there so you have a choice.'' SAY WHAT? ''No one will sign me,'' she laments. ''If I tried to get a deal to save my life, I couldn't.''