BEST SONGWRITER (1998)
It was a typically iconoclastic move for Mike Merz, your basic outcast singer/songwriter, to open his EP, Merzworld, with an old-school rap (and a good one, at that!), boasting, "A lot of wack songwriters in this land of the lakes/Wouldn't know a fresh lyric if it hit 'em in the face!" He's right, of course, but Merz himself is one in a long line of great Minnesota songcrafters (you know the names) who can blend passion and humor into a meticulous mix of syllables and melodies. But even better than the sarcastically egocentric Merzworld was 1996's Buzzkill Nation, his send-up of the music industry. And weirder than all that is his latest direction: exploring his newfound fixation on UFO spirituality. Odds are you haven't heard Mike Merz yet; it's time you did.