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Music

That was the year that was

Our critics pick the best in tunes, 2007

MT illustration: Justin Rose
Amy Winehouse: A female Keef?
SEE ALSO
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Published 1/2/2008

Way back in 1977, Lester Bangs declared that "solipsism was king," that it held all the cards at the moment. One can only wonder what ol' Lester would've thought of 2007, wherein music seemed to be more of a solipsistic venture than ever. Once upon a time, there was the local music store where people would not only assemble to buy new music but also to discuss and discover with other like-minded individuals. In 2007, we mostly opined anonymously in various music-related chat rooms and blogs (where anyone can now be an "expert" regardless of whether they know what the fuck they're talking about).

We bought our music (or just plain stole it) on what President Bush once described as "the Internets." (Full disclosure: Two of my Top 10 albums this year were originally burned for me by friends ...) And then, after downloading the tunes, a majority of us listened to those songs on our little iPods with headphones, making it more a private than communal experience. Thank God for the live gig where music can still be a communal venture — although one does wonder how long it'll be before concerts and club dates will be transmitted regularly via closed-circuit to your home TV or home computer, making venturing outside the home totally unnecessary. And one also wonders how long anyone will actually care, especially when the hottest concert ticket of the last six months was for Hannah Montana (as I told my sister when I was unable to score those hot ducats, which were selling for more than $1,000 apiece in L.A. and $500 in Detroit, for my niece: "Twenty years from now, they may remember that they had a good time with their friends ... but 20 years from now, they're not going to care that they once got to see Hannah Montana").

The old model of the music business continued to crumble, with rigor mortis more than settling in; hell, even the A&R dude at Island who signed Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance — two of the only hot-selling rock bands of recent times (though one wonders what happened to the notion of "sexiness" in rock bands) — lost his job. This, of course, is not something to mourn, although one does also have to wonder what model will take its place. Radiohead helped demonstrate that music may eventually be worth nothing in terms of monetary returns. You'd think it would be easier than ever to break a new artist in this age of MySpace ... but it genuinely takes too long to wade through all the crap to get to the cream and you're thus left with "hot" new stars like, um, Tila Tequila. My cohort Brian Smith suggested we list a "worst record" of the year ... but, hell, after thinking about it, I decided that was most of the albums I heard this year. Nevertheless, here are the Metro Times' music writers' favorite albums of this past, dismal year. Amy Winehouse had the most presence ... but can there really be such a thing as "critical consensus" in this, the era of solipsism? Oh, well. Happy new year. Solipsistically yours, —Bill Holdship, music editor


KENT "TURBO TEEN" ALEXANDER

1. Boris w/Merzbow
Rock Dream — Southern Lord
Two-hour live extravaganza of Godzilla-influenced psychedelia, flanked by abstract, abrasive noise.

2. Ghost
In Stormy Nights — Drag City
A bunch of Japanese freak-folk pseudo-hippies obviously digging both weed and free-form jazz.

3. Wolves
In the Throne Room Two Hunters — Southern Lord
Backwoods black metal from a group living deep in the woods of Washington. These guys take traditional black metal by the neck and slap on a lush-y gloss, making it as much heavy shoegaze as it is metal.

4. Witchcraft
Alchemist — Rise Above
Doom rock with folk leanings, plodding Sabbath riffs and crooning vocals.

5. Boris w/Michio Kurihara
Rainbow — Drag City
A collection of down-tuned, maudlin rock ballads with a guest guitarist (Kurihara) who tries his damndest here to be Roky Erickson.

6. LSD
March Constellation of Tragedy — Important
Japanese pysch-rock born from a warped Neil Young LP and the smoke from an overloaded Velvet Underground amp. The vocalist sounds more like Nico than Nico often did (and more like Lou Reed than anyone in a long time!).

7. Suishou
No Fune the Shining Star Live — Important
Shimmering free-rock that borders pure soundscape ambience.

8. Leonard Cohen
Song of Love and Hate — Columbia
Classic folk dirges from the edge of despair, as Cohen tells the tales of worn hearts and long faces.

9. Earthless
Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky — Tee Pee
Heavy space rock that borrows from (and cops) both Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult. Unlike most pysch rockers, Earthless relies on pure chops rather than effects.

10. Hawkwind
Space Ritual (Collector's Edition) — EMI
Live space wank in overdrive.


BEN BLACKWELL

1. The Black Lips
Good Bad Not Evil — Vice
Catch sight of the rare beast — that is, a genuinely flawless album.

2. Liars
Liars — Mute
Their genius knows no bounds. A riff-heavy bitch of a record.

3. The Horrors
Strange House — Polydor
All attitude and artifice meant to antagonize, these garage students genuinely pulverize.

4. Magik Markers
Boss — Ecstatic Peace
I've finally been rewarded for buying all their unlistenable past CD-R's.

5. Tyvek
Fast Metabolism — self-released
Urgent, inimitable and classic all at once. The sound of new Detroit.

6. Miss Alex White & the Red Orchestra
Space and Time — In the Red
Criminally underappreciated, these timeless power punk jabs are pure joy.

7. The Hives
The Black and White Album — A&M
Even Pharrell and Timbaland can't screw up the perfection that is the Hives.

8. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Is Is — Interscope
Some of these songs are at least four years old ... and it still kills.

9. Little Claw Spit and Squalor
Swallow the Snow — Ecstatic Peace
Vinyl-only atonal caterwauling. Brilliant.

10. Arctic Monkeys
Favourite Worst Nightmare — Domino
A mediocre album from the Monkeys is still better than 90 percent of the bullshit out there.


MARISA BROWN

1. Aesop Rock
None Shall Pass — Def Jux
This is Aesop Rock at his greatest — avant-garde rap that puts dark, gritty, often impenetrable lyrics over grinding melodic beats and creates something that mesmerizes you into listening to it for hours on end.

2. Gogol Bordello
Super Taranta! — Side One Dummy
A combination of Eastern European gypsy music, American punk, Jamaican dub and Southern Italian folk, all fronted by a very charismatic singer. It's riotous, twisting multinational rock that dares you to not join in singing and yelling.

3. Joan As Police Woman
Real Life — Cheap Lullaby
The first release from the former Dambuilder is a gorgeous, mature mood album that manages to convey the simplest emotions without ever seeming cliché.

4. Brother Ali
The Undisputed Truth — Rhymesayers
Recalling the boom bap of old-school hip-hop with an impressive and highly-developed flow, Brother Ali makes political rap that reminds you it's OK to enjoy yourself, even when the world around you is falling apart.

5. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
100 Days, 100 Nights — Daptone
It took Sharon Jones longer than most to finally gain (some of) the recognition she deserves, but better late than never. 100 Days, 100 Nights is soul, funk and R&B the way it's supposed to be done.

6. M.I.A.
Kala — Interscope/XL
Leave it to Maya Arulpragasam to sample the Clash, Jonathan Richman and the Pixies while making her own brand of fiery, political cross-cultural club music that refuses to compromise for anyone.

7. Battles
Mirrored — Warp
Math rock that satisfies both the technical stickler and the guy who just wants to dance.

8. Super Chron Flight Brothers
Emergency Powers — Green Street Ent.
Quirky, intelligent hip-hop that brings together James Frey, the Iraq War, Johnny Depp, MF DOOM, gentrification and — oh yeah — a whole lotta weed.

9. St. Vincent
Marry Me — Beggars Banquet
The solo project from a former Polyphonic Spree guitarist. Well-crafted, well-played indie rock with a hint of irony.

10. Beirut
The Flying Club Cup — Ba Da Bing
Lush, orchestral pop that sounds like it was written from the window seat of an awestruck Euro-Rail pass holder. And that's meant in the best possible way!


HOBEY ECHLIN

1. DL Jones
Wasted Talent — Blue Collar Music
Where most Detroit hip hop was left standing in the shadows of Dilla, perennial D-town darkhorse DL brought WJZZ-jazz and Amp Fiddler's P-Funk soul to underground hip-hop with quietly brilliant results.

2. LCD Soundsystem
Sound of Silver — Capitol
Wherein a youth spent listening to Human League and Scritti Politti was finally vindicated. Thank you, James Murphy.

3. Radiohead
In Rainbowsradiohead.com
The world's best self-hating rock band put away their gadgets and gizmos and made a mostly great album of mostly great songs that emphasized atmosphere over Aphex Twin.

4. El-P
I'll Sleep When You're Dead — Definitive Jux
Brooklyn indie-hop O.G. El-P put his Phillip K. Dick fascination where his mic was, creating his own Blade Runner sequel comprised of paranoid-android post-everything hip-hop.

5. Calvin Harris
I Invented Disco — Almost Gold
I was too busy dancing to it to argue, so maybe he did!

6. Cass McCombs
Dropping The Writ — Domino
Cass might be this affected S.F./L.A. songwriter type who dresses like the weird dude from Powder and sings like Chris Isaak channeling Raymond Carver, but I'm a sucker for this kind of "art fag" folk when it's this "aw-shucks" and meticulous.

7. Chris Bathgate
A Cork Tale Wake — Quite Scientific
Michigan folk so real in its autumnal glory — think Nick Drake via George Winston — that it made me want to grow a beard, move back to Ann Arbor and work at Zingerman's.

8. Amy Winehouse
Back To Black — Republic
The hipsters finally got their own Britney fucked-up popstress. And Motown got another tribute-slash-rip-off.

9. Kanye West
Graduation — Roc-a-Fella
If he can flip Daft Punk's tired frog disco, maybe we can get him to hook up with Axl to finally make Chinese Democracy happen.


TIM GRIERSON

1. Band of Horses
Cease to Begin — Sub Pop
Since it's too modest to call a masterpiece, let's just say it's a tour de force of emotional connection, shared fears and rapturous melancholy. No wonder hipsters hate it.

2. Arcade Fire
Neon Bible —Merge
In regard to all the U2/Springsteen comparisons, consider this: Neither act made as great a second album.

3. M.I.A.
Kala — Interscope/XL
Like Public Enemy before her, politics are embedded within the tunes, but it's the music that proves how provocative she is.

4. Justice
— Vice
LCD Soundsystem's album peaks higher, but this one never, ever lets up.

5. Wilco
Sky Blue Sky — Nonesuch
America's most overrated songwriter essays his best record by neglecting the aural gimmicks, focusing on the crumbling marriage right in front of him.

6. Bright Eyes
Cassadaga — Saddle Creek
America's second-most overrated songwriter discovers that empathy and humility get you a lot further than sheer brattiness.

7. El-P
I'll Sleep When You're Dead — Def Jux
Demands its own Grammy category: Best Apocalyptic Hard-Rock Album by a Hip-Hop Artist.

8. Jason Isbell
Sirens of the Ditch — New West
He always was my favorite Drive-By Trucker.

9. Kaiser Chiefs
Yours Truly, Angry Mob — Universal
Snotty-sounding songs about wishing you weren't the self-centered twentysomething everyone assumes you are.

10. The Broken West
I Can't Go On, I'll Go On — Merge
Because one just can't get enough Big Star-influenced power-pop.


CHRIS HANDYSIDE
(2007 aka The Year Dad Rock Broke)

1. Jarvis Cocker
Jarvis — Rough Trade
Still cooler than you could ever hope to be.

2. Vampire Weekend
Singles & EP — self-released
Believe the hype!

3. Wilco
Sky Blue Sky — Nonesuch
Dad-rock epitomized, despite Volkswagen's worst efforts.

4. Amy Winehouse
Back to Black — Republic
Despite her gossip-column-grabbing behavior, this record has some legs!

5. Feist
"1-2-3-4" (from The Reminder album) — Cherry Tree
Simple and timeless enough to hold up to repeated poundings from iHoles.

6. Bright Eyes
Cassadega (and the EP that preceded it) — Saddle Creek)
Way, way more engaging (and in the case of the single "Four Winds," engaged) than I've ever heard from this dude (and his band) in the past.

7. Original Soundtrack
High School Musical 2 — Disney
Proof that repetition, great hooks, nagging children, a corny love story and brilliant production can work on even the hardest hearts.

8. Patton Oswalt
Werewolves & Lollipops — Sub Pop
This was Oswalt's year. On one end of the spectrum, he wooed the kiddies in Ratatouille. And on the other, he kept Sub Pop's admirable recent run of great comedy albums rolling merrily along with tales of KFC, Bush-bashing and wicked self-examination.

9. Gwen Stefani feat. Akon
"Sweet Escape" — Interscope
A great single off a sucky album that got frat mooks yelling "Woo-hoo" like candy-sucking club kids in sports bars across this great nation.

10. The Shins
Wincing the Night Away – Sub Pop

Great Lakes Myth Society
Compass Rose Bouquet – Quack! Media

Tay Zonday
"Chocolate Rain" – self-released
(Three-way tie)
Because I love the Smiths, gorgeous harmonies and YouTube, respectively.


BILL HOLDSHIP

1. Amy Winehouse
Back To Black — Republic
For the first time in a long time, a record actually lives up to all its hype. Retro and new at the same time. Hopefully, she'll live long enough to serve up another masterpiece.

2. Bruce Springsteen
Magic — Columbia
Life under the Bush administration sucks ... and then you die. Listening to Springsteen, though, can make it a lot more tolerable. A pity he's now kinda looked at as "an old person's rocker" 'cause he has a lot worth hearing, no matter what your age (something Arcade Fire seems to understand).

3. Arcade Fire
Neon Bible – Merge
Not quite as striking as the debut album but no sophomore slump, either. The best "art rock" band to come down the pike in eons ... and they accomplish it without the pretentiousness nor the artsy-fartsiness that has ruined many similar-minded projects dating back to the early '70s. Absolutely mesmerizing.

4. Lucinda Williams
West — New West
There is blood on most of these tracks, as Ms. Williams dually examines the death of a parent and a love relationship gone bad. And "Come On" is the best (and funniest) fuck-off to a lover anyone's recorded in years. Some folks have a hard time getting past the voice, but one man's "Olive Oyl" is yet another's aural wet dream.

5. Neil Young
Chrome Dreams II — Reprise
Decades in the making, but the epic "Ordinary People" made that wait more than worthwhile. Speaking of waiting, though, where in the hell is that career-spanning promised Archives retrospective? (Special mention to Live at Massey Hall, also finally released this year.)

6. John Fogerty
Revival — Fantasy
Despite the comparisons and the attempt to return to his roots, it's not as wonderful as Creedence Clearwater Revival, but then, what is?. Nevertheless, Revival is Fogerty's best solo venture since 1985's Centerfield. And the majority of it is a giant "fuck you" to Mr. Bush and his gang of murderers, liars and thieves.

7. Patti Smith
Twelve — Columbia
Nothing wrong with covers albums, as fans of Bowie's Pinups or the Band's Moondog Matinee, etc., can certainly attest – and this was the year's best example of the form. Not all 12 tracks worked as well as the original versions, but Patti proved that the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" is as poignant as ever today, while making Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" her own pop perfected gem, transforming it into another statement about Life Under Bush.

8. The Go
Howl On The Haunted Beat You Ride — Cass Records
Retro rock done right. A collection of songs that sound like nothing you've ever heard before and yet like something you've heard (and loved) thousands of times before in the past ... which has always been my definition of classic pop-rock music.

9. The Shins
Wincing the Night Away — Sub Pop
It was a toss-up between this and the Band Of Horses' Cease to Begin. But there was nothing that moved me on BoH's sophomore album as much as "Saint Augustine" did on their last one. So the Shins get the nod for their album's more consistent majestic simplicity, not to mention those awe-inspiring vocal harmonies...even if the critics strangely ignored it for the most part.

10. Rickie Lee Jones
Sermon from Exposition Boulevard — New West
The best reinvention of the year ... hell, the best rock reinvention since Patti Smith transformed herself into the great punk Earth Mama. Ms. Jones allows herself to be influenced by both the Velvet Underground and Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison, while attempting to take back the notion of true Christianity from the insane fundamentalists. No need to explain the Bush connection there when all one needs to do is read between the lines. And "Elvis Cadillac" may be the most fun description of life after death since ... well, ever.


MICHAEL HURTT

1. Various Artists
The Cosimo Matassa Story — Proper
When it comes to rock 'n' roll history, there is no underestimating New Orleans engineer Cosimo Matassa. Little Richard and Fats Domino barely scratch the surface of the talent he recorded, but this four-disc box set finally does, zeroing in on the unforgettable hits as well as a plethora of priceless R&B gems from such criminally under-reissued labels as Aladdin and Imperial.

2. Los Gatos Salvajes
Los Gatos Salvajes Complete Recordings — No Fun
Somewhere between R&B, Merseybeat and the South American tango, Argentina's Los Gatos Salvajes came up with a brilliant LP in 1965. Ann Arbor's No Fun Records combined it with singles, live performances and even hotel room demos last year, painting an amazing musical picture of this cornerstone of the trans-world garage sound.

3. King Louie & The Loose Diamonds
Memphis Treet — Empty
The bayou meets the Bluff City, as New Orleans rock 'n' roll iconoclast King Louie Bankston conspires with Memphis' Tennessee Tearjerkers, Mississippi's Jimbo Mathus and Delta pianist-producer-madman Jim Dickinson. The result is a stunning jambalaya of finger-pickin' hillbilly, soul rocking and dark redemptive gospel, complete with lines about "blood on the dance floor" and "eating out of spray-painted garbage cans."

4. Luis & the Wildfires
Brain Jail — Wild
Like a dime store pulp novel come to life, this four-man Latino wrecking crew from California short-circuits '50s basement rock 'n' roll, '60s garage punk and trance-inducing swamp blues into some of the most savage, sharp-dressed punk you've ever heard. The band that Orson Welles surely would have cast in Touch Of Evil had they been born seven decades earlier.

5. The Spiritualaires of Hurtsboro, Alabama
Singing Songs of Praise — Casequarter
Ever since assembling an anthology of the Louisiana guitar evangelist named Reverend Charlie Jackson, the Casequarter label has been heroically attempting to draw attention to some of America's most invisible music – namely, gospel. Harking back to the golden age of quartet singing, the Spiritualaires' deep harmony is accompanied solely by a bluesy electric guitar, with several cuts taken from the group's live 'n' local radio show.

6. Mary Weiss
Dangerous Game — Norton
Since the Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright writes some of the best songs of our time, pairing him with former Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss for this much-anticipated comeback album was a stroke of genius. Weiss handles Cartwright's "Stop and Think It Over" and "Don't Come Back" as though they were written for her — and despite that fact he had no idea she'd ever record them when he was writing them, you might say they were.

7. Various Artists
People Take Warning! Murder Ballads and Disaster songs 1913-1938 — Tompkins Square
In the early part of the 20th century, as Tom Waits writes in the liner notes of this deluxe triple-disc set, "songs were tools for living." You could add coping with dying to that, as the proliferation of tunes like "Titanic Blues," "The Tennessee Tornado" and "The Wreck Of The West Bound Airliner" prove. Hearing them programmed back to back, though, really hammers this segment of our collective history home.

8. The "5" Royales
Catch That Teardrop — Ace
By the time the "5" Royales made it to Memphis to cut these sides for Beale Street's Home Of The Blues label in the 1960s, they were seeing the soul music they'd helped create scaling the charts in the hands of artists who hadn't been born when they started out. Guitarist Lowman Pauling may not take as many soul-shattering solos here as he did in the Royales' late '50s heyday, but the discs he recorded under the "El Pauling" moniker finally see the light of day, as does the truly weird "Mr. Moon Man Parts 1 and 2."

9. The Pipettes
We Are the Pipettes — Interscope
This trio of fetching British ladies not only share a penchant for dance steps, polka dots and the perfect pop song, they've also got the talent, patience and chops to meld their passions into an irresistible debut that sounds like a postmodern square-off between their Brill Building girl group heroines and Josie Cotton belting it out in a high school gymnasium, circa '82.

10. Nathaniel Mayer
I Want Love and Affection (Not the House of Correction) — Vampisoul
Normally, I wouldn't dare recommend a release that features my co-written liner notes. But conflicts of interest aside, there's nothing normal about Nathaniel Mayer. Put simply, he's one of the most unique, original and downright fractured soul artists ever to scorch up a stage. And the songs he cut for the local Fortune label — all of which are here — are mini-masterpieces: two-minute dream worlds awash in primitive studio echo, churning guitars and chanting background vocals. There ain't no more where this came from ... and it's safe to say there never will be.


BRIAN SMITH

1. Rickie Lee Jones
Sermon from Exposition Boulevard — New West
Who isn't a sucker for a smart, beautiful woman with a past whose big eye for small wonders can jumpstart the shivers? Much here is based around accidental sermons from an L.A. homeless guy, and the kitchen-sink arrangements are as natural sounding as an East Hollywood street-corner incantation. "Falling Up" is song of the year.

2. Amy Winehouse
Back to Black – Republic
A hit record that's actually good. The chi of Dusty Springfield only on fucked-up crutches made of booze and drugs. A female Keef? Neat!

3. Johnette Napolitano
Scarred — Hybrid Recordings
When someone finally masters their craft after years and years of fringe existence — the attendant experiences of real-life horrors — nobody cares anymore. I'd rather hear those reports from those songwriters, particularly one whose voice can send.

4. Ian Hunter
Shrunken Heads — Yep Roc
Old Ian's winning commentary on the incredible shrinking minds of America!

5. Jesse Malin
Glitter in the Gutter — Adeline Records
Dollops of wet-eyed romanticism and bits of Springsteen's blue-collar scene filtered through "Ratso" Rizzo and the mind of one weaned on Max's Kansas City and Brill Building folklore. Songs? Great.

6. Little Feat
Little Feat — Mobile Fidelity
In an era of bad music made worse by horrible sonics (and not just mp3s — we're talking modern mastering techniques in the hands of tin-eared fools who insist on reducing music to little more than pitched square waves), Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs (MoFi) buck populist mastering trends with lovely, limited-edition reissues that are carefully mastered straight from the mix-down masters with zero digital compression added. A quick spin and you might remember or discover what music listening is all about ... and then some. This record kills too. One of rock 'n' roll's best ever. Lots of early-'70s Sou Cal truck-stop sadness and riffs that made even the Stones envious. Hear it like this.

7. Arcade Fire
Neon Bible — Merge
Nice channeling of Ian McCullough, chief. (Why is it that no one ever calls Win Butler out on that one? Too busy workin' the goosebumps, probably.)

8. The Soda Pop Kids
Teen Bop Dream — Full Breach Kicks
Blown smooches straight at that great, under-sung U.K. power-pop punk band the Boys — and the even more obscure Dumb Blondes (yeah, good luck finding that "Sorrow" 7-inch, punk) — this rat's-nest-headed quintet sets 'em up and knocks 'em down with an unsteady drunken spirit that sorta upholds the honor of the Replacements but with a bubblegum nihilism that stands tall atop raging sugary power chords.

9. Betty Davis
Betty Davis — Light in the Attic
So reissues creep into this list. Who cares? Mostly it's been a crap year. Besides, what music fan worth his weight in cardboard and vinyl has tolerance for novelty anymore? 1973's Betty Davis was all pussy-powered American punk-funk-R&B that just dripped of a take-me-as-I-am-or-fuck-you 'tude. So it's no wonder record buyers balked. The challenge was too large, her sexuality too big, the future too intimidating. Discover her now, and slide in, if you haven't already. It's a female universe and modern up-to-the-moment songstresses can't touch this.

10. Great Lakes Myth Society
Compass Rose Bouquet — Quack! Media
GLMS sound like gents who could afford good suits. And Wurlitzers, guitars, accordions, mandolins, violins and other pretty stringed things tint narrative-stoked, harmony-rich yarns that glisten far into a deep-set Michigan dusk. Roll into it with the radio off. Lovely, lovely.

Worst record of the year
Foo Fighters
Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace — RCA
Who cares what Dave Grohl has to say? Who cares about needy millionaire drummers who become singers and attempt to pass themselves off as some kind of song giant? Grohl knows, what? Two melodies? He gets his unsightly mug, where? Everywhere. Go away, asshole.


KHARY KIMANI TURNER

1. Amy Winehouse
Back to Black — Republic
With the Dap Kings for rhythm, a hardy dose of fuckyou-ity for a voice, and a lifestyle that's a tragedy in waiting, Amy Winehouse is as edgy as it gets. She's a 2007 Janis Joplin ... and I can't stop listening.

2. Fluent
Mahogany Gyrlmyspace.com/fluent
Fluent, for my money, is Detroit's most charismatic emcee. And his taste in minimalist beats complements his stream-of-consciousness. Tailor-made for an underground, cult following, this conceptual nod to Detroit's greatest poetry spot deserves to be heard well beyond the city's borders.

3. Soundtrack
Dreamgirls — Sony BMG
Best faux-soul soundtrack since The Five Heartbeats. Jennifer Hudson makes Beyoncé work her ass off to keep up, and the music tells the complete story of a highly entertaining movie.

4. Public Enemy
How You Sell Soul... — SLAMjamz
I was infatuated with this album because P.E. brought the listener a lot of nostalgia without losing a step. But then I realized, over time, that this is just one of the best albums of the year, period.

5. Common
Finding Forever — Geffen Records
Hip-hop's Everyman found his swag in a year when he could have let his SAG card and newfound Hollywood access talk for him. He made a statement with an album that goes eclectic without leaving fans of hardcore hip-hop behind.

6. DJ Jazzy Jeff
Return of the Magnificent — Rapster Records
Jeff mixed the old with the new by updating many of his and the Fresh Prince's (remember Will Smith, the rapper?) old sounds. He then brought in a hot lineup of guests that included Jean Grae, Big Daddy Kane, Will Smith and Rhymefest for an album with no weaknesses.

7. Little Brother
Getback — ABB Records
With departed third member 9th Wonder producing only one song, Little Bro put out an album that dares to rival the genius of their stellar The Minstrel Show. Emphasize the word "dares" because, while it comes close, 9th can't be completely replaced.

8. Ghostface Killah
The Big Doe Rehab — Def Jam
Ghostface Killah is the Outkast of the East. Consistently brilliant, and the only driver in his own creative lane, the Big Doe Rehab's only danger is that fans can get bored with high levels of consistency. But that hasn't happened yet.

9. Kanye West
Graduation — Roc-a-Fella
I'm in the minority because I liked Late Registration better than Graduation. It was overhyped. But it's still one of the year's best albums. Like it or not, West is a genius and a master marketer.

10. Jill Scott
The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. III — Hidden Beach Records
Scorned Jill is sexy as hell. She rhymes and sings with an aggressive attitude. She also puts the X in sex without being vulgar. And that takes real creativity in today's climate.


MIKE VILLANO

1. Arcade Fire
Neon Bible — Merge
No sophomore slump for Montreal's' finest. A thought-provoking album that reveals its many layers with each subsequent listen.

2. Bruce Springsteen
Magic — Columbia
This sometime angry, but ultimately uplifting record accompanied the latest return of the E-Street Band. "Radio Nowhere" and "Livin' In the Future" say just about all that needs to be said in the waning years of the Bush regime.

3. Amy Winehouse
Back To Black — Republic
Trainwreck she may be, but Winehouse's blend of jazz, R&B and pop proved irresistible. Hope 2008 sees her finally get through a successful "Rehab."

4. Porcupine Tree
Fear of a Blank Planet — Atlantic
Don't call them "prog": Steven Wilson and company craft an eerie, unsettling masterpiece about the state of 21st century youth.

5. Gogol Bordello
Super Taranta! — Side One Dummy
"Gypsy punk" collective make the most danceable album of 2007. They're funny, too, and not just in the overreferenced Borat way (see "American Wedding.")

6. Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers
Archives Volume One: Live At the Avalon Ballroom 1969 — Amoeba
Released by the powerhouse California indie store Amoeba Records, this live album spotlights Parsons and the Burritos never sounding better. Sourced from Grateful Dead engineer/'60s acid guru Owsley "Bear" Stanley's vaults, this makes one hope that Volume Two follows swiftly.

7. Rush
Snakes & Arrows — Atlantic
Return to form for these much-maligned Canuck veterans. Impeccable musicianship as usual, with a warmth not usually associated with prog.

8. Jason Isbell
Sirens of the Ditch — New West
Perhaps a tad weaker than his work with Drive-By Truckers, Isbell's solo debut is a more-than-serviceable slice of modern roots-rock. "Brand New Kind of Actress" rocks with a Stones swagger, while the haunting "Dress Blues" is the best Iraq War song since Neil Young's "Living With War."

9. Manic Street Preachers
Send Away the Tigers — Columbia
Once described as a band whose popularity evaporates the minute they leave British soil, the Welsh threesome turn in their finest work in more than a decade. But, hey, why'd they hide their phenomenal version of "Working Class Hero"?

10. Ry Cooder
My Name Is Buddy — Nonesuch
Cooder's charming tale follows the travels of a red tabby and his union-loving mouse buddy, playing out like a microcosm of an America long-gone. Somewhere, Woody Guthrie is smiling.


Editor's note:
Walter Wasacz's Top 10 list will be featured in his Subterraneans column, which will run in our next issue.

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