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Music

Fist jackers

Our critics pick the best in music, 2008

SEE ALSO
More from Metro Times music staff

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No Age, Tracy Kash Thomas, downloads, horrible LP covers and more!

 

Published 12/31/2008

The most interesting element of most music polls in recent years is a complete lack of critical consensus. Look at these lists — only a few albums (Lil Wayne, PAS/CAL, TV on the Radio) merit more than one mention. This is probably both a good and bad thing, as some of the consensus in the past appeared to have more to do with lemming-like critics (anyone still listening to that Tracy Chapman or King Sunny Ade album in 2008?) than it did with any genuine consensus. But in, say, 1968, you'd have been hard-pressed to find anyone who didn't have the White Album in their Top 10.

But it's only pop music, for godssakes. So these, as always, are just lists of opinions and egos. Nothing more; nothing less. —Bill Holdship, music editor


BILL HOLDSHIP

1. Rodriguez
Cold Fact
— Light in the Attic
Not so much a "comeback" as it is a "never was" finally getting his just due. Call it a slightly more damaged mid-'60s Dylan ... if Dylan had been produced by Dennis Coffey in Detroit. Or simply just call it great.

2. Alejandro Escovedo
Real Animal
— Back Porch/Manhattan
With former Bowie and T. Rex producer Tony Visconti at the helm, Escovedo looks back and examines his life, including his punk rock roots (the title track refers to Detroit's own Iggy Pop). Musical memoirs this brilliant deserve a much wider audience.

3. Paul Westerberg
49:00
— Self-released/digital download
Another musical memoir of sorts and his best solo effort ever. Adventurous, complex, complete and even psychedelic — the way great albums used to be. It speaks volumes about the music biz that he released it online, charged 49 cents, and then made it available for about that many (i.e., 49) hours.

4. Bob Dylan
Tell Tale Signs: Rare & Unreleased 1989-2006
— Columbia
Zimmy's "throwaways" are better than the best work of most contemporary artists, as he once again proves a great song is a great song, especially when it opens itself up to limitless interpretations. A true genius still walks among us.

5. The Raconteurs
Consolers of the Lonely
— Third Man/Warner Bros.
A classic rock album in the classic sense of that term ... and not a bad song in the bunch. The musical influences are endless and great fun to identify.

6. Brian Wilson
That Lucky Old Sun
— Capitol
Arguably the genius Beach Boys architect's best solo album. Most fans didn't expect him to be alive in '08, let alone releasing a concept album this terrific. And it resonated even better when performed live in Ann Arbor.

7. The Kooks
Konk
— Virgin/EMI
Britpop still lives on in the hands of the Kooks ... at least enough to justify the nod to the Davies brothers that the title of this disc suggests.

8. The Fireman
Electric Arguments
— MPL/ATO
Who'da ever thought another electronic collaboration with Youth would find Paul McCartney creating some melodic, lo-fi ditties that are good enough to be completely at home beside the material on his McCartney debut solo disc?

9. Kings of Leon
Only by the Night
— RCA
Psychedelic Southern rock for the modern era. The Black Crowes merely create an homage but this sounds like the real stuff.

10. R.E.M.
Accelerate
— Warner Bros.
Their best and most fully realized album since those first three early masterpieces. The middle portion meanders a tad — but "Man-Sized Wreath" balances things out with one of the best pop hooks on a major label release this year.

Honorable mentions: Lindsey Buckingham, Gift of Screws — Reprise; The Dandy Warhols, Earth to the Dandy Warhols — Beat the World Records;
John Mellencamp, Life Death and Freedom — Hear Music; The Raveonettes, Lust Lust Lust — Vice; Sloan, Parallel Play — YepRoc; Lucinda Williams, Little Honey — New West

TOP 10 LOCAL CDS
(in alphabetical order):

1. Doop & The Inside Outlaws
Blood River
— Self-released
If modern country radio featured songwriting half as good as the material on this late '07 release, modern country radio would be a helluva lot better.

2. Friendly Foes
Born Radical
— Gangplank
Pop hooks galore and pop hooks to spare. Derivative as hell but so is most good pop music.

3. The Go
Tracking the Trail of the Haunted Beat
— Italy/Bellyache
Some of the alternate and demo versions — "Invisible Friend," in particular — sound stronger than the later, more produced versions on last year's official LP.

4. The Hard Lessons
B&G Sides
— Quack! Media
There's still something to be said for ambition — and this concept collection was the height of ambitious.

5. The Muggs
On With the Show
— Self-released
The opening and closing tracks basically say it all — "Motown Blues." The Muggs remain a local treasure.

6. Outrageous Cherry
Wide Awake in the Spirit World
— Wicked Cool
Speaking of local treasures ... Little Steven finally gives Detroit's own renaissance man Matthew Smith and crew the "Best Of" treatment they deserve via his Wicked Cool label.

7. The Pop Project
Stars of Stage and Screen
— Suburban Sprawl
Count 'em — not one, not two, but three superb pop songwriters, so how could they possibly go wrong? The lo-fi production leaves one wondering how great they'd sound with someone like Nick Lowe behind the board.

8. Rodriguez
Cold Fact
— Light in the Attic
In case you haven't figured it out, I adore this album! It's always nice to discover something great that you didn't realize existed in the first place.

9. The Romeo Flynns
Pictures of You
— What's Left
Canny listeners will instantly identify traces of the Who, Springsteen, the Romantics, ELO and various elements of '70s classic FM rock in this ambitious Detroit trio's pop sounds.

10. Ultraviolet Radio
Walking into the Light
— Self-released
Former Go guitarist James McConnell offers up a highly eclectic but always rockin' mix of (almost) one-man-band tunes

 

KENT "ZACKY" ALEXANDER

1. BigElf
Cheat the Gallows
— Custard
That Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and T. Rex collaboration you've always dreamed about!

2. Acid Mothers Temple
Pink Lady Lemonade ~ You're from Outer Space ~
— Riot Season
Quirky, shamanistic space rock, sorta like musical LSD.

3. Jex Thoth
Jex Thoth
— I Hate
Lumbering vintage metal ... with a Viking goddess on vocals!

4. Blood Ceremony
Blood Ceremony
— Rise Above
If Tony Iommoi took songwriting lessons from Ian Anderson, you'd get this.

5. Julian Cope
Black Sheep
— Head Heritage
Wild-eyed psychedelic pop anthems and pseudo-hymn balladry.

6. Earth
The Bee Made Honey in The Lion's Skull
— Southern Lord
Beefy slabs of droning, twanging post-metal.

7. Toxic Holocaust
An Overdose of Death...
— Relapse
Trash metal. Period. That is, bullet belts and middle fingers.

8. Farflung
A Wound in Eternity
— Meteor City
Hawkwind? Close.

9. Boris
Smile
— Southern Lord
Noise-coated experiments in tinnitus-inducing rawk.

10. Burning Witch
Crippled Lucifer
— Southern Lord
Well, if you like nightmares ...

 

BRETT CALLWOOD

1. Guns N' Roses
Chinese Democracy
— Geffen
Does it sound like it took 15 years to make? Probably not, but it's still the year's best album.

2. The Wildhearts
Stop Us If You've Heard This One Before, Vol. 1
— Phantom Sound & Vision
The British cult rockers once again stomp over the opposition but are largely overlooked on this side of the Atlantic. Do yourself a favor and have a listen.

3. Mötley Crüe
Saints of Los Angeles
— Eleven Seven
A return to form from the sleaziest rockers of them all. Catch them on their upcoming tour while guitarist Mick Mars can still stand up.

4. Bleeding Through
Declaration
— Trustkill
The hardcore-metal crossover troupe delivers the best album of their career to date and perhaps the most intense record of the year.

5. Alice Cooper
Along Came a Spider
— Steamhammer/SPV
The Detroit shocker returns with a concept album about a serial killer who collects the legs of his victims. Yep, really.

6. Whitey Morgan and the 78's
Honky Tonks and Cheap Motels
— Small Stone
Country rock at its finest from a local boy. You can practically smell the bourbon on Morgan's breath while listening to this disc.

7. Sponge
Galore Galore
— Bellum
Thanks to a record label fuck up, Vinnie Dombroski and crew re-released their most recent studio effort this year — and it's their best album in some time.

8. Metallica
Death Magnetic
— Warner Bros.
No, it isn't as good as fans hoped. Still, this is a lot closer to the Black Album era than they've been since its release. One big push, boys, and you might be great again.

9. Bear Lake
Places on the Side
— Independent
Local indie boys deliver one of the most poignant rock records to come from this region in recent times.

10. Brain Police
Beyond the Wasteland
— Small Stone
Small Stone Records hit gold again with this sludgy monster. Hairy, sweaty stoner metal for people who drink beer in the morning in their parents' basement

 

HOBEY ECHLIN

1. Spiritualized
Songs in A&E
— Universal Spaceman Fontana Records
Most ex-junkies his age are either bland AA Christians or dusty old mystics. But Jason Pierce, after spending six months on his deathbed in a coma, still produced a wheezing shrug of a blues-gaze masterpiece by replacing the dope-drone with gospel, horns and strings.

2. M83
Saturdays = Youth
— Mute
As a preppy fuck-up who barely graduated in the mid-'80s, I can only marvel at how some French kid half my age totally nailed the sound of the external and internal abyss of weekend afternoons before cell phones, Facebook and Wii existed.

3. PAS/CAL
I Was Raised on Matthew Mark Luke & Laura
— Le Grand Magistery
Genius title. Genius songs. Genius arrangements. Never so clever, it isn't good. Never so good, it isn't astonishingly clever. I coulda stopped at "Genius." Bravo!

4. School of Seven Bells
Alpinisms
— Ghostly International
Like the best parts of James and A Flock of Seagulls snapping the Watson Twins the fuck out of it. Thank God!

5. Daedelus
Love to Make Music To
— Ninja Tune
Alfred Darlington's oddly charismatic post-hip-hop, topped off by a wistfully deadpan cover of Ghost City DJs '90s classic "My Boo," captured Los Angeles' obtuse splendor frustratingly well.

6. Neon Neon
Stainless Style
— Lex
If Rick Wagoner had this crunk-one-track, soft-focus homage to auto maverick and cocaine mule John DeLorean on "repeat" during the nine-hour drive to the bailout hearings, he'd not only have the damn money now, Electrifyin' Mojo'd be deejaying GM's Auto Show.

7. Portishead
Third
— Island
A decade ago's "Flowers in the Attic" hip-hop has evolved — miraculously, impossibly — into prog-indie-jazz that's as bone-chilling as it is heart-warming.

8. Lil Wayne
Tha Carter III
— Cash Money/Universal
Kanye proved he was just OK at arty minimalism, but Wayne proved he's still amazing at being completely and variously fucked-up. Not as good as his mix taps, but cool as far as mainstream hip-hop goes.

9. Girl Talk
Feed the Animals
— Illegal Art
Andrew W.K. "fuck yeah" meets Aphex Twin "fuck you" in a meta-mega-mix that makes Fatboy Slim sound like Jandek and should have secretaries grinding each other at the holiday office party.

10. Awesome Color
Electric Aborigines
— Ecstatic Peace
So Stooges-times-10 badass that it wouldn't surprise me if the chick drummer's underwear has a dickhole.

 

TIM GRIERSON

1. Erykah Badu
New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War)
— Motown
Genuinely weird and entirely wonderful, this is an album with as much war, peace, love, protest and controversy as the year in which it arrived.

2. Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend
— XL
When people say it sounds like Graceland, they mean it sounds like Ray Phiri's guitar, with help from Talking Heads' rhythm section.

3. My Morning Jacket
Evil Urges
— ATO Records/Red
To answer the haters, yes, I love "Highly Suspicious." In fact, I love the whole damn thing.

4. The Broken West
Now or Heaven
— Merge
Deciding that anyone can do power pop, they focus their follow-up album on all the things they can't do, and then do them very well.

5. Aimee Mann
@#%&*! Smilers
— Superego
The anxieties of the overintellectual NPR crowd examined, mocked and commiserated with by a woman who knows the terrain and doesn't think she's above it.

6. TV on the Radio
Dear Science
— DGC/Interscope
So hyped at its release that folks are just now starting to see past the album's obvious smarts to also appreciate its compassion, depth and utter refusal to be the life-changing disc the band's fans demand.

7. Kanye West
808s & Heartbreak
— Roc-A-Fella
After two albums of razzle-dazzle, this long, slow descent into ugliness, self-loathing and relentlessly captivating songs makes the case for his artistry as much as The College Dropout did.

8. No Age
Nouns
— Sub Pop
Noise as mystery, hypnotherapy, aggression and — most importantly — music.

9. Stephen Malkmus
Real Emotional Trash
— Matador
A beloved indie icon past his prime, Stephen Malkmus releases his nerviest solo record, full of long solos, longer songs and many reminders of why we fell in love with him in the first place.

10. The Roots
Rising Down
— Def Jam
Every Roots album is worth owning, this one just a little more so.

 

CHRIS HANDYSIDE

1. Child Bite
Fantastic Gusts of Blood
— Suburban Sprawl
A manic, hairy, mythology manifesto to match the "good times" in which we're all soaking.

2. Beyonce
Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)
— Music World Music/Columbia
FM, AMAs, SNL — acronym trifecta and absolute playground pop perfection.

3. Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend
— XL Recordings
Songs always trump hype.

4. Sloan
Parallel Play
– Yep Roc
Graying kings of power pop return with compact awesomeness that expresses more with less.

5. PAS/CAL
I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura
— Le Grand Magistery
They finally drop the genius bomb and Caz up and moves to Chicago. I swear, this fucking economy ...!

6. TV on the Radio
Dear Science
— DGC/Interscope
Would you like a little Afropop with your planet-smashing jams? Yes, please.

7. Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago
— Jagjaguwar
Because I'm an old man and a softie for quiet catharsis and how this record sounds at 3 a.m. driving up and down Woodward Avenue in the summertime. Seriously! Try it.

8. Hidden Ghost Balloon Ship
Internet Jams
— Self-released
They got Bowie on the brain and Neu! in their hearts. Hell, yeah!

9. Prussia
Dear Emily, Best Wishes, Molly
— Common Cloud Records
Demented, fully baked pop collisions that sound, feel and resonate way better than any formulaic equation could describe.

10. Biggest disappointment:
Various Artists
High School Musical 3 Soundtrack
— Disney
The last two have lodged themselves in my head. This one? Not. Even. Close. Big screen impact, my ass

 

W. KIM HERON

1. Sonny Rollins
Road Shows, Vol. 1
— Emarcy/Doxy
Let's consult the timeline of Rollins' last few live releases: Sixteen years from G-Man to Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert, seven years to this one, and the "1" part of the title suggests there's more from this radiant stash in our near future. Trends are in our favor!

2. Cassandra Wilson
Loverly
— Blue Note
Wilson redefined a new kind of expansive jazz repertoire for a generation, making way for Norah Jones, Madelyine Peyroux, Kate McGarry and plenty of others. But about once a decade, she's done something like a traditional standards disc. This one, with Jason Moran on piano, is resplendent.

3. Rudresh Mahanthappa
Kinsmen
— Pi
Among this year's releases, saxophonist Mahanthappa contributes mightily to pianist Vijay Iyer's excellent Tragicomic and the Miles project below, but he shifts the East-meets-West center of gravity defiantly to the East on his own 2008 release. Music to make heads spin.

4. Benny Maupin
Early Reflections
— Cryptogramophone
His little squiggle riff on "Bitches Brew" may be the most famous bass clarinet part in all of jazz. His sax work on "Chameleon" is up there too. But this acoustic, reflective work with a Polish backing band is what matters to Maupin now. Good for us.

5. Various Artists (produced by Bob Belden)
Miles from India
— Times Square
Miles may not have delved as deeply into Eastern motifs as many of his contemporaries, but the Davis band alums (from Jimmy Cobb to Adam Holzman) and kindred spirits (such as spit-fire saxman Rudresh Mahanthappa, mentioned above) here suggest what could have been — and what is now.

6. James Carter
Present Tense
— Emarcy
Carter may seem to hyperventilate, but it's a ruse: The saxophonist is in total control and you're the one who gets dizzy. D.D. Jackson splatters note clusters like a latter-day Don Pullen; trumpeter Dwight Adams sails over it all.

7. Francisco Mora Catlett
Outerzone
— Premier Cru
The former Detroit percussionist-composer's collaboraters include Carl Craig and Craig Taborn on keyboards, and post-Ra Arkestra leader Marshall Allen on saxophone. As wild as you might expect, more canny than you might imagine. "When the Saints Go Marching In" saunters from Congo Square to the stratosphere.

8. Jim Hall and Bill Frisell
Hemispheres
— Artistshare
A cross-generational meeting of great guitar minds with one disc of duets and another adding drummer Joey Baron and bassist Scott Colley. Joys range from Frisell's sound-effects trick bag to fluid readings of standards (and not-so-standards).

9. Lafayette Gilchrist
Soul Progressin'
— Hyena
He's a true original, but this pianist seems to need a full band to express it. After his piano trio date, 3, this is a return to form (with sledgehammer force). A neo-juke joint sound for our time.

10. Lisle Ellis
Sucker Punch Requiem: An Homage to Jean-Michel Basquiat
— Henceforth Records
From electro-acoustic sound collages to more tuneful fare, Ellis fashions an intriguing tribute to the late, bad-boy of the art world. Ellis handles bass, electronics and "sound design" with collaborators including Susie Ibarra and George Lewis.

 

WILLIAM E. KETCHUM III

1. Nas
Untitled
— Def Jam
His most focused effort since the seminal debut Illmatic. Here, Nas uses elaborate concepts and a flawless technique to investigate the "N" word and the national-global black experience.

2. Black Milk
Tronic
— Fat Beats
Criticism that he's a clone of the late J Dilla should end right here, as Black exchanges his sped-up soul samples for a synthy, futuristic updated sound, adding some agility to his already efficient flow.

3. Killer Mike
I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind II
— SMC Recordings
The Outkast protégé has finally come of age, compiling an energetic set of songs built to motivate without degrading, and to stand for the underrepresented without exploiting them. The beats knock as hard as anything out of the South in years.

4. T.I
Paper Trail
— SMC Recordings
Effortlessly switching between passionate stream of consciousness rhymes, introspective material, witty boasts and radio-ready hits, T.I. cements himself as a bona fide star before he serves a year in prison for gun charges.

5. The Roots
Rising Down
— Grand Hustle/Atlantic
The Philadelphia rap band gives a piercing critique of contemporary society with statements about poverty, crime, race and politics. The expansive guest list — including Mos Def, Common and Saigon — only proves the message is universal.

6. Jake One
White Van Music
— Rhymesayers
Jake One brings together artists from every end of his versatile client list. Simply put, absolutely everyone — whether it's Detroit's Elzhi and Royce Da 5'9" on the show-stealing "Glow" or M.O.P. on "Gangsta Boy" — brings their A-game.

7. Buff1
There's Only One
— A-Side Worldwide
Using a clear, digestible flow and robust melodies from the Lab Techs production team, Ann Arbor's Buff1 raps about destructive relationships, the pitfalls of street life and a slew of other universally relatable topics.

8. Invincible
Shapeshifters
— Emergence
After paying her dues for years as a writer-performer on MTV's Lyricist Lounge Show, Detroit's own Invincible delivers a solo debut full of slow-burning rhymes about gentrification and the power of hip-hop.

9. 88-Keys
The Death of Adam
— Decon
On his Kanye West-produced debut album, 88-Keys tells the story of Adam, a man who dies due to his over pursuit of sex, with each song acting as a different scene in the tale.

10. Lil Wayne
Tha Carter 3
— Cash Money
As the world's biggest rapper circa 2008, Lil Wayne took a lot more chances than he had to. But that's what makes this album so engaging, using experimental production from the likes of Maestro, Kanye West and Cool & Dre to create a classic.

 

CHARLES L. LATIMER

1. Roy Hargrove
Ear Candy
— Emarcy Records
This was an album I listened to so much, I can recite the chord change to each of the 13 songs in my sleep.

2. Lafayette Gilchrist
Soul Progressin'
— Hyena Records
On this, Gilchrist's fourth studio album, the pianist channels the spirits of late keyboard powerhouses Thelonious Monk and Don Pullen. What's not to love?

3. Gerald Cleaver
Gerald Cleaver's Detroit
— Fresh Sound Records
Drummer and native Detroiter captured the heartbeat of Detroit Jazz. Call it "Detroit swing."

4. Mike Reed
People, Places & Things
— 482 Music
Mike Reed is a free jazz expressionist, but the drummer made a free jazz album that's actually quite listenable.

5. Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis
Two Men with the Blues
— Blue Note Records
A country & Western legend meets a jazz traditionalist ... and neither one is afraid to take risks.

6. David Sandborn
Here & Gone
— Decca Records
A veteran alto saxophonist proved that even smooth jazz musicians sometimes get the blues.

7. Grace Kelly & Lee Konitz
Gracefullee
— Pazz
She's only 16 but distinguishes herself by performing with such journeymen swingers as alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, bassist Rufus Reid and guitarist Russell Malone.

8. Tim Warfield
One for Shirley
— Criss Cross Jazz
A flawless tribute album, with tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield delivering a love letter to his mentor, the late organist Shirley Scott.

9. Sonny Rollins
Road Shows, Vol. 1
— Doxy Records
A wonderful live album by the undisputed champion of jazz improvisation; live is always the best context in which to experience Rollins.

10. Seal
Seal Soul
— Warner Brothers
OK, so Seal isn't a jazz musician. And Seal Soul isn't a jazz album. Nevertheless, the pop singer is a soul music purist — and you can't get more pure than modernized versions of "It's a Man's World," "Stand By Me" and "I Can't Stand the Rain."

 

SERENE DOMINIC

1. TV on the Radio
Dear Science
— DGC/Interscope
TV On the Radio came up with a record that reminded everybody that music can do most anything — make a sad man happy, make a cloudy day sunny, and excite and thrill the listener enough to play it all the way through, over and over again, like you did when you heard (insert title of first record you ever loved).

2. David Byrne and Brian Eno
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
— Todod Mondo
This album is the sound of two grown men coming back together and realizing not only are they are still wearing the same shoes (as Tina Weymouth once pointedly bitched) but those shoes look a lot better on them than they do on U2 and Coldplay. And just look at the way they uplift!

3. Local H
12 Angry Months
— Shout Factory
For those of us who occupy a personal hell where Kanye's Gucci, Louis Vuitton and YSL fixations aren't even an option, there's Local H, a band who broke down romantic breakups into a 12-step program. And it's a lot funnier than Blood on the Tracks or Shoot Out the Lights.

4. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
— Anti
Because it's a new age and because we need curmudgeons.

5. Santogold
Santogold
— Downtown
Some say Santi White is what Gwen Stefani would sound like if she were talented, but I say this is what Katy Perry would sound like if she kissed a girl and left a pound of gold glitter in her mouth.

6. Calexico
Carried to Dust
— Quarterstick
Critic Fred Mills called their music "desert nõir" and it's hard to argue with that. These guys know how to lay back and let music take you somewhere else between twilight and sunrise.

7. Duffy
Rockferry
— Mercury
People give her short shrift by saying she's no Amy Winehouse, like that's a bad thing. But Duffy is more like Lulu or Billie Davis, a girl who comes with a mousy voice and a clean slate, allowing us get lost in note perfect three-minute pop as nature intended.

8. The Black Keys
Attack and Release
— Nonesuch
If I had to narrow my choice to one DangerMouse production this year, I'd say this brought more smiles to my face than the Gnarls Barkley record or Beck's Modern Guilt. And I don't care if the story about this record being originally written for Ike Turner is true or not!

9. Ra Ra Riot
The Rhumb Line
— Barsuk

10.Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes
— Sub Pop
Every year, I have at least one indispensable twee album and I couldn't decide between the chamber pop of Ra Ra Riot or the Harry Simeole simulation of Fleet Foxes. Only a death match could settle that score.

 

BRIAN SMITH

1. Black Crowes
Warpaint
— Silver Arrow
The album jumpstarts with 2008's best rock 'n' roll tune in "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution," a call-to-arms in which we follow singer Chris Robinson's pied-piper hippy-shimmy across a culture that's splittin' at the seams; its loopy optimism ("Hallelujah, come join the jubilee") says freedom's just a tear-it-all-down-and-rebuild away, a killer theme reprised throughout.

2. Todd Snider
Peace
— Queer Aimless
As much a masterful storyteller as he's a chronicler of the downtrodden and damned — like Harry Crews but with a wider grin and an acoustic guitar. More, his anti-war ditty-parables resonate long after last call.

3. Dennis Wilson
Pacific Ocean Blue
— Sony/Legacy
The dead Beach Boy never got a fair shake, it seems, until this reissue. It's melancholic and song-driven and as lovely as Nilsson or good Randy Newman.

4. Rodriguez
Cold Fact
— Light in the Attic
Made eons ago by a Hispanic dude from Detroit whose penchant for Donovan and Dylan is as oddly beautiful as the album itself.

5. Invincible
Shapeshifters
— Emergence
Music with power to change? Fuckin' A. She's too tough to hide behind irony and too plucky to not believe. The country's best emcee might be this Jewish lesbian who lives just down the potholed and neglected street from you.

6. Nina Simone
To Be Free
— Sony/Legacy
A winning box that traverses Simone's basic career highs and more — and you've never heard the Bee Gees until Simone's fetching spin on "Too Love Somebody."

7. Dead Boys
We Have Come for Your Children
— Nobile Rot
The album everyone hated. Too bad, 'cause under the guise of ex-Mountain man and U of M grad, Felix A. Pappalardi Jr., the album kind of sparkles. This reissue sees the Dead Boys selling out and almost sounding good ... what sweet tension.

8. Frank Sinatra
Sings for Only the Lonely
— Capitol/Mobile Fidelity
Straight from the master mono tapes and mastered with bat-eared precision, it's like old red, er, blue eyes stands before you in the saloon, hankie and mic in hand. A CD truly made of gold.

9. Cheap Trick
Live at Budokan (30th Anniversay)
— Sony/Legacy
How often can one hear a different version of that glorious sing-song oedipal lament and not want to jack fist and shout along? And don't discount this as label rehash for capital gain 'cause the never-before-seen live DVD from the Tokyo show is worth the dough alone.

10. Aimee Mann
@#%&*! Smilers
— Superego
Besides the subtle lifts of hooks and ache, Mann never sounds like she feels more than you do; only that she's able to define it.

Worst album of the year:
Mötley Crüe
Saints of Los Angeles
— Eleven Seven
More careerist, manipulative (we're on the edge, maaaan) horseshit from rich white republicans. A record as calculated as Britney Spears' Circus.

 

LAURA WITKOWSKI

1. Friendly Foes
Born Radical
— Gangplank Records
Tight, catchy and addictive. I listened to this on repeat more than any album this year.

2. New Grenada
Energy Shortage
— Jack Holmes Recording Company
Remember in the '90s when the guitars were all crunchy and good? Well, John Nelson does ... thank goodness!

3. Javelins
Heavy Meadows
— Suburban Sprawl
It shimmers and floats like a hot air balloon ride in the summer. Dream pop for realists.

4. Prussia
Dear Emily, Best Wishes, Molly
— Common Cloud Records
It would be nice if more kids would steal from the past and reinvent the future the way Prussia does.

5. The Pop Project
Stars of Stage and Screen
— Suburban Sprawl
Melodramatic and finely crafted pop that'll have you dusting off your ELO records.

6. Champions of Breakfast
Pleasure Mountain
— Duffmeister
If Daft Punk and Weird Al had a baby who was raised on role playing games, it might sound like this.

7. Invincible
Shapeshifters
— Emergence
One of Detroit's finest rappers is a pro-Palestinian Jewish lesbian. Now, that rules.

8. PAS/CAL
I Was Raised On Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura
— Le Grande Magistry
High-brow pretentious pop for people who adore such things and have no qualms about it.

9. Love Meets Lust
Bitter Company
— Self-released
For the '80s synth pop fanatic in all of us.

10. The Silent Years
The Globe
— Defend Music
A concept record that somehow manages to transcend being totally ostentatious and instead is warm and inviting.

 

MIKE VILLANO

1. Drive-By Truckers
Brighter Than Creation's Dark
— New West
More songs about love, loss and the plight of the forgotten people of America. Jason Isbell is missed, but ex-wife Shonna Tucker's songwriting debut adds a nice feminine touch to an already wide repertoire.

2. Bob Dylan
Tell Tale Signs: Rare & Unreleased 1989-2006
— Columbia
Could this be the best of the eight "Bootleg Series" recordings yet? Judging from the quality on display here — including revelatory versions of several Oh Mercy classics — the evidence points to a resounding "yes." Two discs of the kind of Americana that's distinct in its trademark "Bobness."

3. Dar Williams
Promised Land
— Razor & Tie
Criminally underrated, the goddess of New England folk has been toiling away for the last 15 years and just improves with age. Her latest may avoid some of the wit of her earlier work, but her heart shines throughout another great set.

4. Lucinda Williams
Little Honey
— Lost Highway
She may have (maybe) found true love, but this uncharacteristic sweetness still comes with that whiskey and cigarette-soaked voice. The duet with Elvis Costello provides a perfect foil for her. Perhaps a Plant-Krauss-type collaboration is in the cards?

5. R.E.M.
Accelerate
— Warner Bros.
Has any band ever had as many alleged "return to form" albums as these guys? For once, the hype is true. It only took 16 years but this was way more worth the wait than Chinese Democracy.

6. Marillion
Happiness is the Road
— Racket
These Internet pioneers pulled "a Radiohead" by releasing the full two discs as a free download, and couldn't have chosen a better album to lure people in. Their lush musical landscapes prove that prog doesn't have to be dull at all.

7. The Hold Steady
Stay Positive
— Vagrant
Craig Finn and company deliver another gem just two years after their Boys and Girls in America breakthrough. A joyous celebration of what rock 'n' roll is all about.

8. Goldfrapp
Seventh Tree
— Mute
Allison Goldfrapp is nothing if not a work-in-progress. Forsaking the baroque pop and dance directions of her earlier records, Seventh Tree's quiet folk style suits her well. One of the finest middle-of-the-night albums in years.

9. The Gaslight Anthem
The '59 Sound
— Side One Dummy
This New Jersey quartet offers a delicious blend of Springsteen and the Replacements, with a pinch of classic soul. They were born the year The River was released, but they've studied their Bruce records with the fervor of true disciples.

10. AC/DC
Black Ice
— Columbia
Rumor has it that this is their swan song, and if so, the ultimate good-time party guys will leave us with a great big smile on our collective faces. That three-chord boogie still pleases. Forget the bogus Wal-Mart tie-in; there's loads of new and used ones waiting on the Internet.


Walter Wasacz's year-end list will run next week in his Subterraneans column.

Want to reach our critics? Send an e-mail to letters@metrotimes.com.

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