It's no wonder that many consider "modern rock" or the "new wave" to be the most exciting musical genre: just witness its diversity.

From synth-pop to industrial noise to reggae to punk-rock, the "new wave" encompasses portions of almost every existing style. Not too surprisingly, these artists are usually among pop music's finest and most successful.In order to separate the best from the worst of recent record releases, the following list includes suggestions from the best, brightest and most unfairly neglected - a "New Wave Shopper's Guide," if you will:POP MUSIC ARTISTS:

All; "Percolater" (Cruz). * * * *

Serving up the perfect blend of pure pop and punk-rock, this Missouri quartet (which has roots in Salt Lake City) gives each of its "emo-core" numbers - songs about love and its failures - "All" the energy and hooks they deserve.

They Might Be Giants; "Apollo 18" (Elektra). * * * *

New York's twisted Johns (Linnell and Flansburgh) show no signs of a creative drought, bringing delightfully warped lyrics to ultra-hummable numbers like "She's Actual Size" and "Dinner Bell," both standouts on this winner.

XTC; "Nonsuch" (Geffen). * * * 1/2

After 15 years in the business, Britain's XTC can still do it all, from near-psychedelia ("Holly up on Poppy") to tribal stomps ("War Dance") and pure pop ("The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead"). Helping out Andy Partridge's and Colin Moulding's melodic pop is drummer Dave Mattacks (ex-Fairport Convention).FOLK-ROCK ARTISTS:

Field Trip; "Ripe" (Slash/Warner Bros.). * * *

"Ripe" is more accessible than the band's previous two efforts. Field Trip, of Pleasanton, Calif., still has more than enough rustic charm to pull off folky rock numbers like "Wake Up Alone" and "Another Lonely Day," which should be a truck-driving anthem.

Miracle Legion; "Drenched" (Morgan Creek). * * * 1/2

Connecticut's Miracle Legion has been unfairly and too often compared to R.E.M. Expanding to a quartet for its major label debut, this collection of heartfelt songs is more reminiscent of recent Waterboys and Van Morrison (especially the lovely "Sea Hag").

Uncle Tupelo; "Still Feel Gone" (Rockville). * * *

R.E.M.'s Peter Buck called this Missouri trio the best country act in the world. While there's more rock than Garth Brooks on this sophomore effort, there's still considerable twang to such bouncy delights as "Watch Me Fall."SINGER/SONGWRITERS:

Billy Bragg; "The Peel Sessions" (Strange Fruit). * * * 1/2

Though Britain's foremost "socialist folk-rocker" has now fleshed out his sound with a band, these recordings (made originally for radio) feature Bragg solo and at his most compelling, delivering his songs with a sparkling honesty.

Peter Case; "Six Pack of Love" (Geffen). * * *

Ever since disbanding power-pop icons the Plimsouls, Peter Case has adopted a neo-folkie guise. By embracing both his rocking past (on "Vanishing Act") and his acoustic present ("Wonderful 99," co-written with the legendary John Prine), Case has made his most satisfying effort to date.

Matthew Sweet; "Girlfriend" (Zoo Entertainment-BMG). * * * 1/2

Since it took a messy divorce and other tragedies for Matthew Sweet to find his unique voice, let's hope that things go better for this promising popster, who's capable of producing crackling pop (such as the mildly funky title track) as well as weepy sentiments ("I've Been Waiting").