Judging by most child stars, I’m willing to bet that if they re-made this commercial today, it’s tagline would be: “Zack, Zack, he’s a methamphetamine maniac.”

5. Dungen-Tio Bitar [Kemado]

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Dungen did not tour this record in America. This is because the band’s mastermind, Gustav Estjes was rumored to be alone in the snowy Swedish hinterlands, ingesting enough hallucinogens to give Hunter S. Thompson pause, and trying to untangle the beautiful mess of sounds stampeding inside his head. On the band’s website, Estjes readily admits that his entire sonic leitmotif descends from the memory of being eight years old, hearing his mother’s copy of Are You Experienced? for the first time.

But Jimi Hendrix is merely the jumping off point for Estjes’ lysergic symphonies; aided by Swede postman by day/guitar god by night Reine Fiske, Dungen spit back an impossibly melodic synthesis of the ’60s and early ’70s, seamlessly blending orange sunshine-laced Hendrix solos, snaking Revolver sitars, and some weird willowy flutes a la Aqualung. This is dusty analog music, buzzing with a drugged red-eyed glow, all spray-paint and candy color. It’s not the sort of artistic statement that promises to change anyone’s life (unless you’re this fellow), but Tio Bitar is a great work of escapist art, the sort of essential record I’d pick for any hypothetical list of desert island necessities.

MP3: Dungen-“Gor Det Nu”

4. Ghostface Killah-The Big Dough Rehab [Def Jam]

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The people who bitched about The Big Dough Rehab’s lack of originality are the types who would’ve complained that Rembrandt painted too many pictures of Dutchmen with bushy mustaches and black felt hats. They’re missing the point: like the famed 17th century portraitist, Ghost’s brilliance lies in his innate ability to humanize even the most stiff figures and breath life into the most tired of tropes. “Yolanda’s House” (explained at length here) should be merely another Wu heist, instead it thumps off the speakers with a novelist’s eye for detail, from Ghost’s meal of french fries and fish sticks, to Meth reprimanding Starks for laughing at his asthmatic girlfriend, to Raekwon’s description of a drug connect as wearing a lot of “loud shit, you know that Steve Rifkind-style shit.”

Superficially, this just another casually brilliant Ghostface album, but underneath its veneer a greater linearity and thematic consistency emerges (save for “White Linen Affair,” which is plain retarded). If heads were chagrined that The Big Dough Rehab lacked “weird” songs about seeing Sponge Bob underwater, their absence came in exchange for a focus on deeper themes: mortality, a desire to repent, the proverbial Devil on Ghost’s shoulder that that believes that life should be “Bentley’s and big bills, bottles, biscuits, bitches, blunts, [and] bad boys bodying pit bulls” (as declared on “Paisley Darts.”) Cinematically arranged, even seemingly head-scratching decisions like “The Prayer” have a warped logic to them, with Ox’s supplications serving as a second act turning point of sorts, with Ghost navigating treacherous femme fatales and mob shootouts in the third act, before ultimately recognizing life’s fragility and the need to “slow down” on the finale. Of course, it isn’t as consistently thrilling as Supreme Clientele, but it’s still a lot more fun than this guy.

MP3: Ghostface Killah ft. Method Man & Raekwon-“Yolanda’s House”

3. LCD Soundsystem-Sound of Silver [Capitol/DFA]

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If you’re desperate, the de rigueur cricism of Sound of Silver is that there’s little else to it besides “Someone Great” and “All My Friends,” and that the latter is the kind of “Stairway To Heaven”/ “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for aging indie types to eventually beat their kids over the head with. But really- do you really want to hang out with people who can’t find anything here? “North American Scum” isn’t Ted Leo with a better sense of humor? The title track doesn’t knock? I realize it’s all hipster catnip, but you know what- sometimes “the blogs” are right.

I refuse to believe this won’t be a record that matters when all’s said and done. Because this seems to be the dovetailing of solutions to complaints about indie rock in general: dance music doesn’t have any emotional resonance and the power trio is too fucking boring. And while 2007 was certainly quite the banner year for club music to go rock, let’s face it: Simian Mobile Disco isn’t sucking any less any time soon. This might have been a record you degraded on your year-end just to be original, but see if it isn’t the one that you bring out in 2017 most often. –Ian Cohen
MP3: LCD Soundsystem-“North American Scum” (Left-Click)

2. Sunset Rubdown-Random Spirit Lover [Jagjaguwar]

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Random Spirit Lover is a dense epic sprawl of a record. If you listen to it enough, I’m reasonably sure you’ll start to go a little crazy. For a long time, it seemed to only make sense, drunk, rambling, stoned in the ashy delirium of 3:00 a.m revelation. With a frozen winter nightmare vibe that hits at some raw intestinal level, the sort of thing that sounded fit for a long car ride to the funeral of a close friend, rain clouds cackling overhead, setting the sad soundtrack to the inherent smallness and fragility of life. In the reel that flickers inside my head, it plays like The Chronicles of Narnia re-written entirely from memory by Guillermo Del Toro, with a soundtrack composed by a super-group of David Bowie, Frog Eyes, and the ghost of Elliot Smith. It would do horrible at the box office.

Random Spirit Lover requires a willful suspension of disbelief. Each song in and of itself is a weird tesseract to warp through, passing into a vivid cosmology of courtesans, failed heroes, snakes, stallions, leopards, and various other animals that added together would probably account for 22 percent of the San Diego Zoo. You have to ignore this record’s excesses and pretensions, it’s herky-jerky pacing and its song titles including “Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days” and “Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot!” (the latter of which has a reasonable shot at being the title of the next big Southern ring-tone rap song). Spencer Krug is the rare songwriter capable of writing songs that can mean 1,000 things to a 1,000 people, an opacity that lends itself to a sort of timelessness that allows you to believe that if you play this in 50 years it’ll retain the mystery and magic it possesses today.

MP3: Sunset Rubdown-“Up On Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days”

1. El-P- I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead [Def Jux]

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I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, is El-P’s masterpiece, a record both explicit and subtle, simultaneously political and apolitical, a record for a turbulent schizophrenic year where gruesome headlines from Iraq sat side-by-side with news of the Dow skyrocketing and Anna Nicole Smith corpse-raping. Heavily rooted in his NYC cityscape, El dipped jittery, a “Brooklyn baby / Waterlocked, walkin’ nervous” with a “gonzomatic fear turning [him] Hunter S. Thompson.”

Like many Def Jux records, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead is monolithic and impenetrable on first listen. But with patience and time, its lyrical complexities and Bomb Squad by way of My Bloody Valentine sound grows increasingly more vivid. Listen to “Poisenville Kids No Wins,” and try to ignore El-P’s sound-of-a-mind-bleeding beat, a thundering seven-minute soulfuck full of Star Wars synths, Orwellian alarms, and drums big as boulders. Try to ignore lyrics that paint a hazy drugged dispatch from that valley between dawn and night, the story of a lonely train car home, vomited out onto blocks of Brooklyn brownstones and bodegas, nasal drip tearing its way down our narrator’s throat. Slanting against a sleeping storefront, he pauses for one last cigarette, letting the wispy Newport drags dissolve into the weak maroon sun, contemplating that fragile membrane that links light and darkness, sanity and madness, the desire to fight versus the wisdom to flee. Not only is I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, the best hip-hop album made this year, it’s one of the best ever made.

MP3: El-P-“Poisenville Kids No Wins/Reprise (This Must Be Our Time)”


50. Redman-Red Gone Wild [Def Jam]

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Other than M.O.P., Redman is the only East Coast rapper able to conceptually re-make the same album since 1992 and get away with it. The only difference is that where Billy Danze and Fizzy Womack are concerned with curb-checking you if you wander into Brownsville, Reggie Noble wants to blow trees, molest chubby women, watch cartoons, babble about Brick City, and freestyle. And just like M.O.P, Redman is really really good when he sticks to the script. The only thing different with Red Gone Wild is that this time the Funk Doc put a weird Smurf-looking anime character on the cover, a decision no doubt made under the influence of some strong Super Skunk. Ultimately, it’s Redman. He tells you he’s gonna’ be “breakin’ you off wif da ultimate funk shit!” And he does. Let the weed do the rest. —Zilla

Download:
MP3: Redman ft. Method Man & Ready Rocc-“Blow Treez”

49. Blockhead-Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book [Ninja Tune]

 

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Blockhead’s a fitting name for the Manhattan-based producer born Tony Simon, who like his Charlie Brown referencing alias, gets no respect. Best known for his production work with Aesop Rock, Blockhead has released a steady string of great hip-hop instrumental albums over the four years that received the worst response possible: they’ve been ignored. But below the radar, Blockhead has evolved into one of the best producers in hip-hop, mainstream or otherwise. Not to mention his Party Fun Action Committee record is probably the funniest LP made this decade (really.)

On Uncle Tony’s Coloring Book, Blockhead trades in the brooding, candles and seance vibe of his previous work, for a more upbeat, lush sound. Resuscitating 40s blue jazz notes, aching soul samples and acid rock guitar riffs and melding them to his crate digging aesthetic, Blockhead’s third record might be his best yet. Now people need to stop being such blockheads and pay attention.

Download:
MP3: Blockhead-“Grape Nuts and Chalk Sauce” (Left-Click)

48. Chromeo-Fancy Footwork [Vice]

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Chromeo mesh perfectly with the hipster retro aesthetic so popular today. Their 80s breakbeats, Zapp-like vocoders and hollow tenor saxophone solos are are all a throwback to the time when headbands and leggings were de rigeur fashion items in hip circles. In a way, that’s this record’s genius, the way in which the Montreal-based duo write pop gems that you think you’ve heard before but can’t quite place. But where it should come off as hollow pastiche, Dave 1 and Pee add their own touch to the electro-sounds pioneered by their sonic forebears: Hall & Oates and Roger Troutman. On paper it sounds terrible. In practice, you can’t help but practice your fancy footwork. –Scott Towler

Download:
MP3: Chromeo-“Fancy Footwork”

47. Scarface-Made [Rap-A-Lot]

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Made is Scarface as old Testament prophet, battle-scarred and wizened, massive, creaky, but still all-powerful. Wounded but still breathing. Barely. Scarface didn’t return to make Budweiser Commercials and appease Def Jam stockholders. He came back because he’s enraged and disillusioned. His friends are killing themselves. Monogamy and relationships can’t work for him he confesses on “Girl You Know,” resigned, heavy-hearted . The record’s highlight is “Who Do You Believe In,” where Scarface paints a damning portrait of the drug-ravaged Houston ghetto, flooded with impoverished Katrina refugee– in ruins. In the final verse, he wraps it up with an indictment of the war in Iraq that ranks as arguably the finest protest song the way has produced. Spare, chilling and poignant, Made is an impressive addition to Scarface’s already storied body of work.

Download:
MP3: Scarface-“Who Do You Believe In”

46. Andrew Bird-Armchair Apocrypha [Fat Possum]

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On first listen this is a pretty forgettable autumnal record. It’s only upon multiple listenings that you start to hear Bird’s mastery of the violin, as he morphs an ostensibly staid instrument into a pop weapon. Armchair Apocrypha doesn’t expand much beyond beyond 2005’s similarly excellent, Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs. It doesn’t really need to. Every Bird song is a miniature symphony, one that grows more complex and poetic with every spin. Plus, he’s a much better whistler than that dude in Peter Bjorn & John. –Scott Towler

Download:
MP3: Andrew Bird-“Heretics”

45. Joe Buhdha Presents Klashnekoff: Lionheart: Tussle With the Beast [Low Life Records/Riddim Killa]

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Exactly three British rappers have managed to “break” the American market in this decade, and by “break” I mean getting the American music press to hype them as the best thing since Earl Grey and raisin currants. Yeah, I like the Streets but he’s so laughably bad as a rapper that it was only when I got past thinking of him as “hip-hop” that I was able to enjoy his records. Meanwhile, Dizzee Rascal’s practically unlistenable, a strawman for the Grime movement that was as likely to take over America as the African Killer Bees. Lady Sovereign might be the best rapper of the bunch, but unfortunately she’s 5’0 foot tall and looks like Napoleon Dynamite’s girlfriend. XXL ain’t giving her the cover anytime soon.

Klashnekoff probably isn’t about to brace the face of American print mags either. Other British rappers have been grime, Klashnekoff is grimy. He raps like he’s trying to sear flesh. His philosophy is “come in peace or leave in pieces.” His stories about life in the Hackney ghettos in London are told with a thick, often indecipherable, British project slang but reveal a heavy creative debt to mid-90s New York hip-hop. Indeed, the leader of the Terra Firma crew cites the Wu as his main influence, flips a Nas-sample for a hook, shouts Pharoahe Monch out and even enlists Kool G Rap to shred a track. Behind the boards, Joe Buhdha admirably recalls early Mobb Deep, but in the end Klashnekoff is the star. If you’ve thought the British rap you’ve heard in the past was….well…a little too British, give Klashnekoff a chance. He’s not just a great British rapper, he’s a great rapper, period.

MP3: Klashnekoff-“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised On Channel U”

44. Elvis Perkins-Ash Wednesday [XL}

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Regardless of back story, Ash Wednesday is an outstanding record. Elvis Perkins’s powerful voice is capable of hitting Jeff Buckley’s heights; his graceful lyrics are blessed with poetic detail, filled with images of young Christmas brides’ hair going gray under the spell of tragedy, and dreams “that have gone overslept.” The arrangements are pristine, melancholic pop, at times reminiscent of M. Ward, Destroyer, and Elliot Smith.

But when you factor in Perkins’ tragic past, (his actor father, Anthony Perkins died of AID’s in 1992 while his mother, photographer Berry Berenson died on 9/11), few albums made in recent memory sound this harrowing or painful and even fewer yield such a sense of catharsis. Listening to Ash Wednesday, one feels strangely cleansed, as though Perkins has soaked up and synthesized the word’s sins, to channel them into a work of stark beauty.

MP3: Elvis Perkins-“While You Were Sleeping”

43. Electrelane-No Shouts, No Calls [Pure Records/Beggar’s Group]

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Earlier this Spring, during my short-lived tenure as a Sea Level employee, I was listening to No Shouts, No Calls, in the store when a customer stopped and asked me what I was playing. Resisting my urge to tell her Barry Manilow’s 7th Symphony, I told her the truth and she kind of clucked at me (a very hipstery cluck) mind you and snarked that this record totally sucks because it sounds “way too much like Stereolab.”

Of course, the fourth album from the now-on hiatus Bristol-based quartet does sound an awful lot like a Stereolab record. All Electrelane albums sound a little bit like Stereolab. But just because they might lack innovation, it doesn’t change the fact that No Shouts, No Calls is a stellar album filled with efficient German guitar lines, glimmering keyboard riffs and sturdily-constructed songs. The thing about Electrelane is that nothing they do stands out as being particularly great. Verity Susman is a nice but unremarkable singer. Her lyrics are adequate but simple. The band is competent musically, but they aren’t about to win any awards for technical mastery. Yet somehow, No Shouts No Calls is still better than anything Stereolab has made in the last decade. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot better of an album name than Emperor Tomato Ketchup.

MP3: Electrelane-“Tram 21″

42. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!-Some Loud Thunder [Self-Released]

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The backlash that accompanied the release of Some Loud Thunder would’ve been a lot funnier if it wasn’t so predictable. The strange part is what people took issue with: the gangly production, prevalence of interludes and is that first song a joke or something? You know, the same things that the first record should’ve been criticized for, but a band in transition isn’t anywhere as interesting as a band that could possibly pass for a new business model. As such, the less-accessible Some Loud Thunder was dismissed as if Clap Your Hands Say Yeah couldn’t make any more records after it. I hope they do and I hope they sound like Some Loud Thunder, an album that proved them as far more artistically restless and knotty than the indie rock matchgames of their debut suggested. “Love Song #7” swayed with seasick piano rolls, “Satan Said Dance” held the mirror up to beat-conscious hipsters and “Underwater (You And Me)” proved they could still stock your mixtapes- one way or another, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah bested their eponymous platter lyrically, melodically and structurally, no mean feat considering that they stayed winning in what was ostensibly a no-win situation. Ian Cohen

MP3: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-“Underwater (You And Me)”

41. Camp Lo-In Black Hollywood [Good Hands]

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Heads who knocked In Black Hollywood forgot Hollywood Rule #1: The sequel is never as good as the original (Godfather and Back to the Future exempted.) Of course, Camp Lo’s third album could never match up to their now canonized debut, Uptown Saturday Night–that isn’t the point. Ten years deep, the Bronx-bred duo of Sonny Chiba and Geeichie Suede are still spinning the sort of technicolor tales could only fit on the big screen: blaxploitation fantasies of bloody Bronx shoot-outs, slick diamond heists and jet-black getaway cars gunning it 100 miles per on the Bronx Expressway, with planes to Aruba waiting at Teterboro. All matinee style: swaggering in fly panama hats, Oscar Gamble afros, and floor-length minks. Sure, this might not be a contender to wind up on any AFI greatest of all-time list, but In Black Hollywood certainly deserves an Oscar nomination or two.

MP3: Camp Lo-“My Posse From the Bronx”

40. The Twilight Sad-Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters [Fat Cat]

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Take note Bloc Party. This is how you do histrionic, nostalgic and bombastic arena rock for indie kids without coming off like total fucking pussies. A Weekend in the City wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t good either, and by the end of it I wanted to give Kele a handkerchief, pat him on the back and tell him to “grow a pair.” (Oh c’mon, you know you wanted to too). Of course, A Twilight Sad has yet to cross over to the 16-year old Gossip Girl demographic, a fact that can largely be attributed to the minimal promotional budget of tiny British-indie Fat Cat Records, coupled with lead singer James Graham’s Groundskeeper Willie-thick Scottish brogue. But if you can get past making jokes about “greased Scotsmen,” and “North Kilt Town,” few bands have their ability to reconcile the divide between massive anthemic balladry and intimate bedroom confessionals. As The Twilight Sad’s grinding winter-white guitars and rowdy rhythm section blur with Graham’s lonely claustrophobia, it’s hard not to be convinced that by the end of their career, this band is going to be rolling in their retirement grease.

MP3: The Twilight Sad-“Walking For Two Hours”

39. Madlib-The Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4 [Stones Throw]

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Vol. 3 in the Beat Konducta series is another banger for the blunted set, one that largely flew under the radar, ignored in the frenzy to lavish praise on the Graduation of that other much more famous rapper/producer that dropped his album the week after Madlib Like its predecessor, last year’s nearly as strong Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes, Vol. 3 scores an imaginary film. Unlike the previous collection that focused on stitching together a bunch of ridiculously listenable funk and soul samples, this time Madlib toted his bong to India, crafting a seamless 29 minute mix of looped sitars and gritty dusty drums, patches of Bollywood dialogue, and Redman vocal samples. Oriental flutes and vinyl crackle. Order some Lamb Curry and Cheese Naan, roll a Grape Dutch and serve (No Marques Houston.)

MP3: Madlib the Beat Konducta-“Dancing Girls Theme”

38. Tunng-Good Arrows [Full Time Hobby]

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You can tell everything you need to know about Good Arrows, the third album from British “folktronica” sextet, Tunng, from its title’s unsettling connotations of benevolent violence. But that might be the best way to describe these 11 gorgeous folky meditations, full of skeletal guitars and suffocating electronic organs, wistful acoustic ballads fading into clattering crashing codas. Think Four Tet crossed with Fairport Convention, and you’d be close. But there’s something more haunting about Tunng and the way they artfully conceal their poison in the foggy drift of their songs; setting morose lyrics of rats crawling down spines, bullets smashing into teeth and a collapsing sky against some of the year’s prettiest guitar melodies. Tunng’s stories might not always be pleasant, but no matter what, its arrows always stick.

MP3: Tunng-“Bullets”

37. Dr. Dog-We All Belong [Park the Van]

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Here’s how you know if you listen to too much music, put on We All Belong, the fourth record from throwback Philadelphia rockers, Dr. Dog. If you don’t like it at least a little bit, there’s a good chance that you love music so much that you actually hate it and don’t even know. Ask yourself, do I write about music for a living on the Internet? Do I wear glasses for “the look”? Do I own at least two Xiu Xiu records? If so, you might want to seek help at from a trained medical professional.

Taking a quick look at We All Belong’s Metacritic score, you notice a weird discrepancy between the print outlets and the Internet, with the record receiving high praise from Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and the Village Voice, but searing put-downs from Pitchfork and Pop Matters (no one liked ‘em at Stylus either.) That’s bullshit. I’ll throw down for Dr. Dog any day. Granted, I’m not the only defender these guys have, the 4.4 Pitchfork review of Easy Beat album, all but called the NYT’s Kaleffa Sanneh a bitch for raving about these guys, while You Set the Scene has practically turned into a Dr. Dog fan-blog with his collection of year-end lists, but for the most part Dr. Dog have been saddled with the critical death curse for some nebulous perceived lack of sonic innovation Granted, it’s true that Dr. Dog don’t tread any new territory that Band, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys haven’t walked before. But so what? Who cares if they aren’t re-inventing the wheel on fire, Dr. Dog have at least one thing in common with the groups they ostensibly imitate: they understand how to write a good song.

MP3: Dr. Dog-“My Old Ways”

36. Of Montreal-Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? [Polyvinyl]

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Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer finds Of Montreal frontman, Kevin Barnes burying a final sequin-sheathed dagger into the back of the whimsical Beatles experimentation of his first records, turning to Prince and Bowie to ground his most epic album yet. It’s the sort of work you’d call mature, if only it so wasn’t. On Hissing Fauna, Barnes is ever the drama queen, writing 12-minute synthesizer dirges to his wife, constantallly tormented by his own demons, still knowingly pretentious enough to title his lead single, “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse.” Ostensibly, this should make for a textbook case of overreaching lead singer makes horrifically stupid “concept album” (Barnes has described in interviews that Hissing Fauna is about his transformation from mild-mannered Kevin Barnes into a party animal named Georgie Fruit). Instead, he managed to brilliantly re-invent glam rock for the Internet Age.

MP3: Of Montreal-“Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse”

35. Wilco-Sky Blue Sky [Nonesuch]

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When music critics scoff that Wilco are “dad-rock,” they’re absolutely right. Sort of. My dad only listens to sports radio and Israeli gypsy pop, a genre that sounds like a hybrid between Gogol Bordello and a cat slaughterhouse. Wilco are actually my mom’s favorite band. She’s got every one of their albums stretching all the way back to Uncle Tupelo. (This was my work, after I grew tired of hearing her proselytize the gospels of Dwight Yoakam and George Strait)

Then the other day, apropos to nothing, she told me that she still liked Sky Blue Sky, but found it a lot more boring than the rest of the band’s work. I couldn’t exactly argue. Ever since he stopped popping pills like Fat Elvis on Spring Break and got rid of the migraines, Jeff Tweedy’s been in a sort of amiable anomie, penning lyrics about folded jeans, mowing the lawn and learning to do laundry. It’s a little dull. Hell, my cat is napping to Sky Blue Sky as we speak. But despite the occasional banality, Tweedy and the dream-team backing band that is Wilco, 2007, are just too talented not to be able to redeem the lyrical malaise. Yeah, it lacks the ambition of Wilco’s earlier material, but Sky Blue Sky remains an impeccably recorded, well-crafted album from one of the finest working bands of its generation. And I’m sure when I’m 50, it’ll be a great album to mow the lawn to.

MP3: Wilco-“Side With the Seeds”

34. The Ponys-Turn the Lights Out [Matador]

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Even the positive notices for Turn the Lights Out seemed begrudging. Chalk it up to the potential The Ponys flashed on their 2004 debut, Laced With Romance, which skated in in just the nick in time to get lumped into the dying days of the “garage-rock movement.” But rather than please critics with a bunch of atonal guitar-freak outs that reflected their “inner rage,” against the “system,” the Ponys have kept it simple, still mining Television and Sonic Youth for inspiration, complete with heavy gnashing guitar riffs, a CBGB fast rhythm section and aloof punk-inflected vocals. On record, it might seem a little too polished and mannered for the experimentally inclined, but live their sludgy guitars and head-banger volume attack with such a flesh-melting intensity that you can’t help but be floored. Plus, the album cover might be top 10 this year.

MP3: The Ponys “Double Vision”

33. The Shins-Wincing the Night Away [Sub Pop]

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If they haven’t been completely ruined for you, I’d recommend going back to Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow. More than just a good way to spend an hour, it’s also a reminder that The Shins top themselves on every record- except this time, you had to check Billboard to find any indication of that. Don’t hold it against The Shins because Wincing The Night Away found more people voicing their approval with wallets than keyboards; they were always too good to be anyone’s secret, and they’ve continually painted within their boundaries while expanding them at the same time. As a result, their third record ended up being their least emotionally inscrutable and most musically rich, and there’s no reason to think that it won’t be true of Album Four. If you found most of the hate being tiresomely focused on Garden State‘s dewy-eyed leads, understand that it’s only because the brainy and bouncy pop of “Australia,” “Phantom Limb” and the nine other songs here are impossible to dislike on merit alone. –Ian Cohen

MP3: The Shins-“Australia”

32. Daft Punk-Alive 2007 [Virgin]

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Recently, I spent an entire afternoon invested in the Untitled Daft Punk Project. What is the untitled Daft Punk project? Let me explain. When you enter my apartment, there is a long dark narrow hallway that leads into my living room. I took the sofa chair in the main room and set it up at the end of the hallway, facing the door. Then I played Alive 2007 on repeat. This required a lot of time and most importantly timing. I donned a pair of sunglasses, a suit and smoked approximately 17 cigarettes. A strobe light is necessary. I also waited three hours, with the endless repetition of Alive 2007.

On the third go-round, when “Technologic” ends, I heard a knock at the door. I commanded my unknowing guest: “Enter!” It was my exterminator, approximately five-five years old, but don’t let that fool you, it’s an amateur disguise. He has tremendous kung-fu skills. As the door opened, a robot voice sang “Te-le-vi-sion.” The devious exterminator said, “I’m here to spray your apartment. I put out my cigarette, staring straight at him. “Rules the na-tion.” When the “Around the World” came in, he began walking down the hallway.

The beat begins to drop. I get up off the sofa chair. We’re face to face. Then the song picks up, the strobe light comes on by timer, and we battle. It’s epic. I’m punching, he’s blocking my chops. He tries to high kick me, but I block his kick and flip him. Then I upper cut and knock him out. The guitar plays over the beat. I light a cigarette and call my therapist. –Tal Rosenberg

MP3: Daft Punk-“Around The World/Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”

31. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings-100 Days, 100 Nights [Dap Tone]

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The Grammy Awards Committee kind of reminds me of the 40-something Cougars you occasionally see propped up in the corner of some seedy Los Angeles nightclub. All restless eyes and push-up bras, too-short skirts and caked-on makeup; hopelessly behind the curve but desperately trying to stay relevant. This is my best explanation for Amy Winehouse getting six Grammy nominations, because after all, the kids love Amy Winehouse, she sings about missing Nas concerts and smoking weed and she allegedly smokes crack and god knows that kids love smoking crack. Right? Right.

Sharon Jones will receive 0 trophies come awards night. Granted, her album missed this year’s nominee cut-off by three days, but let’s get real, she wouldn’t have stood a chance against Winehouse in the first place. Jones is a 50-something former prison guard, not an emaciated train wreck whose pathetic personal life has managed to somehow boost her stock, getting everyone from radio programmers to gossip blogs to the industry elite to fawn all over her massive voice and minimal brains. But while Winehouse’s album can’t but help but seem callow and juvenile in the context of her wretched travails, Jones, carries the scars of experience in each bellow of her bottomless voice. Behind her, the Dap-Kings, pipe pinpoint trumpet blasts, elegiac sax lines and meaty-fingered basslines to imbue 100 Days, 100 Nights with the feel of a long-lost great album recently excavated from a dusty Stax vault. Next year, when she’s eligible, I’d hope that Sharon Jones receives the recognition she rightfully deserves. At the very least, we know that she won’t come to the Grammy’s dressed like this.

MP3: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings-“100 Days, 100 Nights”

 

30. Jay-Z -American Gangster [Roc-A-Fella]

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Is American Gangster that good or was Kingdom Come that mediocre? They’re suprisingly surprisingly similar when you think about it–a handful of absolutely
great songs coupled with some average tracks (by Jay-Z standards). But it’s undeniably more exciting to hear mediocre songs in the vein of Reasonable Doubt like “Say Hello” and “Sweet” compared to the US Weekly escapades of “Hollywood” and “I Made it” from “Kingdom Come.”

Oh yeah, and Mr. Carter aka The GOAT (yeah, I said it) comes through to smash all contenders . Hip hop single of the year “Roc Boys” is only four joints away from quotable of the year “Ignorant Shit.” Observe how Jay murders Nas on…Jay’s own shit via “Success.” And with the exception of the out of place Lil’ Wayne appearance on “Hello Brooklyn 2.0,” this movie-inspired soundtrack uses high-profile cameos (Beyonce, Kanye, Beans, Cassie, Bilal) like actors for specific roles. This is one of most focused major label hip hop albums of the year. And there’s no sign of Chris Martin! L’chaim!-Zilla

MP3: Jay-Z ft. Nas “Success”

29. Citay-Little Kingdom [Dead Oceans]

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If I were Citay I’d go the jam band route. Fuck all this freak-folk, indie credibility shit. Didn’t you guys get the memo? Hipsters don’t like guitars anymore. Hipsters want two dancing gnomes clad in neon, one from Sri Lanka, the other from Austria, who make afro-pop influenced minimalist techno. But if the jam-band nation ever wrapped their ears around Citay’s golden state psychedelia it would be over in five bong rips flat. Trust. There’s a moment in the middle of “A Riot of Color,” the third song on Little Kingdom, when frontman, Ezra Feinberg, uncorks a amber-colored guitar line eerily reminiscent of jam Buddha, Jerry Garcia. It’s a song possessed by an other-worldly beauty, with a tangerine Led Zeppelin III-type acoustic foundation that lets Feinberg’s Spaceman Spliff flights breathe. Citay are the kind of band that can only come from San Francisco. All bay area breeze, mellow sunshine and edge of the continent infinity. So c’mon hippies, I know there’s a few of you out there reading this, put down your String Cheese records, prepare your finest bowl of sour diesel, throw on a set of headphones and turn Little Kingdom up–loud.

MP3: Citay-“First Fantasy”

28. Monkey Swallows The Universe-The Casket Letters [Loose]

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Monkey Swallows The Universe broke up two weeks ago and if I wasn’t doing all these damned year-end blurbs I’d probably devote a separate post to the news. But in a way, their demise feels a bit fitting and not just because of their morbid midlands lyrics. The Thing is, I always thought of Monkey Swallows the Universe as a “Stylus” band if it were actually possible to a “Stylus band.” We were the only non-British publication to review either of their records, both of which we gave raves to. And they had a small but fervent fan-base among the staff. Of course, the thing about Stylus was that there was really no consensus on anything. That was sort of the point. You went to Stylus to read the writers, you didn’t go for any sort of branded taste-o-cracy. In the end, more people will always be looking for a downloading guide than for trenchant criticism. It just wasn’t a viable business model.

Monkey Swallows the Universe didn’t have much commercial potential either. They weren’t a coked out, trilby hat-wearing London guitar band, they weren’t a Nu-Raving, lost city of Atlantis-loving, candidate for NME hype, nor were they emo enough to please chubby British kids with bad haircuts. Monkey Swallows the Universe were an unglamorous folky five-piece from Sheffield: steel and coal country. On top of it all, they cursed themselves from the get-go by naming themselves Monkey Swallows the Universe. Which sounds more like a chapter in a bad Phillip Roth novel than it does a band you’d love. It’s too bad though, because Monkey Swallows the Universe were already a pretty special band, one who had the potential to be the best U.K. twee band since Belle & Sebastian. I wish I’d have had the chance to have seen them live but they never made it over to the States. It’s probably just as well. Monkey Swallows the Universe made two deeply personal, sad, wonderful records that couldn’t be improved much by the live setting. Both The Casket Letters and the debut, The Bright Carvings, have a profound sense of loneliness to them, the sort of albums you don’t want to listen to much around other people, let alone dance to. It’s music for the sleepy melancholy of the early morning, when you want to hear a voice remind you of realities you already know and make you consider the ones you don’t. Of course, the world will go on just fine with one less great band, just like it will one less great Internet music magazine, but it’ll be a bit worse because of it.

From the Casket Letters

MP3: Monkey Swallows The Universe-“Bloodline”

From The Bright Carvings

MP3: Monkey Swallows the Universe-“Sheffield Shanty”
MP3: Monkey Swallows the Universe-“Jimmy Down the Well”

27. The Black Lips-Good Evil Not Bad Evil [Vice]

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If The Black Lips had made Good Evil Not Bad Evil six years ago, in the midst of the barely-materialized “garage rock revival”, I’m sure the critical community would’ve been in full shout-out-from the rooftops mode. As it is, the rowdy Atlanta band’s first Vice album took them from a notorious Atlanta club act to a nationally known, increasingly popular hipster favorite (the hipster nation obviously felt a strong kinship with the band’s bold use of mustaches). But the attention is well-deserved, the Black Lips brew a raw, cocky, Southern moonshine kind of rock. A filthy ape-like stomp full of mordant humor and primordial power. Think Nuggets as performed by a bunch of smart-ass misfits, banging their instruments in a dank, slimy aluminum garage. Some undoubtedly preferred the scuzzy thrash of Los Valientes Del Mundo Nuevo, the live album that the Lips recorded in Tijuana earlier this years, but Good Evil Not Bad Evil, featured the band’s strongest collection of songs and shortest shorts yet.

MP3: The Black Lips-“Cold Hands”

26. Panda Bear-Person Pitch [Paw Tracks]

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I’ll never forget the first time I heard Person Pitch. I was standing on the coast of Portugal watching the sun rise in a bronzed arc, casting a glimmering light on the water. Strangely, I found myself struck by the powerful urges to hear a post-modern Brian Wilson homage and to find a good plate of authentic Spanish paella. While my efforts to find the paella were stymied, I come across a waiter who slipped me a bootleg tape of Person Pitch. It was limited to just 16 people and distributed directly from Noah Lennox’s cave on the periphery of Lisbon. Pressing my ear faintly to the weak boombox speakers, I found myself crying tears of liquid gold. The power of Panda Bear’s spell was so powerful that I immediately set out through the streets of Lisboa, stripping off my clothes off and ringing a cowbell, telling everyone from small children to the elderly that the messiah had finally arrived, and that to think, he came from Baltimore! Once the Portugese heard Person Pitch, they too began weeping and running with me in a lengthy single-file line, chanting only the word “Panda!” “Panda” “Panda.”

By the time we made it to Lennox’s cave, the number of people trailing me had grown to several thousand, starving, hysterical, naked. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there. He was at his 10-year high school reunion, where, according to my spies, he was bonding with his former Private School Lacrosse chums. I was very disappointed. Luckily, my religious epiphany and analysis of Panda Bear had left me certain of one thing. I no longer craved paella. No, what I truly desired was some Chinese food.

MP3: Panda Bear-“Comfy In Nautica”

25. Wu-Tang Clan-8 Diagrams [SRC/Loud]

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8 Diagrams is east coast hardcore rap that doesn’t sound like it was made on the east coast. It was recorded in LA but it doesn’t sound like LA either. considering it isn’t loud, it isn’t flashy, and it certainly couldn’t soundtrack a barbeque unless Jim Jarmusch, Rob Zombie, and Anton Chigurh were the hosts. 8 Diagrams takes samples, hard drums, R&B hooks, good ol’ headbanger boogie rhymes, and live instrumentation, loads them all into a pistol and fires them wildly into a crowd. It’s very unsettling and shocking, but addictive and thrilling at times. It’s the “new” New York sound without even giving hip hop the heads-up that the rules have changed.

There are no accessible monsters on here like “Criminology” or “Bring The Pain.” Then again, this isn’t another Cappadonna album or a return to Bobby Digital. 8 Diagrams doesn’t fit into a world of iPods and individual downloads. From the opening dialogue on “Campfire” to the heartfelt, albeit too long, closer “Life Changes,” it demands your full attention. Whereas the best example of Wu-Tang’s glory days is found on the new Ghostface album The Big Doe Rehab, the future of what Wu-Tang and all its members could be walks quietly throughout 8 Diagrams. That is if they ever stop bitching.-Zilla

See also review in LA Weekly

MP3: Wu-Tang Clan-“Take It Back”

24. Wooden Shjips-Wooden Shjips [Holy Mountain]

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It takes a certain type of record to truly feel right in Los Angeles. Something shapeless, druggy and dumb. This is it. For about two weeks earlier this month, I drove around town bumping nothing but Wooden Shjips. It seemed to cause everything to move in slow motion, weird chanting and sinister organs and heavy traffic, extraordinarily stoned, this turned up loud. Hanging my head at the failed reality stars and all the iron and concrete until I was ready to scream, this album was the only thing capable of pacifying me. It allowed me to breathe and I’m not sure if it would or could make as much sense anywhere else. In their wild-eyed haze Wooden Shjips somehow captured the fuzzy neon drone and soft apocalypse of wintertime Los Angeles. I suppose I should send them a fruit basket or maybe just an eighth.

MP3: Wooden Shjips-“We Ask You To Ride”

23. The Field-From Here We Go Sublime [Kompakt]

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Maybe I’m just being lazy but I really can’t write anything about From Here We Go Sublime. Not because I have nothing to say, but rather because someone else so perfectly and succinctly captured the feelings engendered by this record. So instead, here are my friend, Theon Weber’s words From Here We Go Sublime that appeared in this year’s Stylus Top 50.

“I may not be qualified to describe From Here We Go Sublime. Here’s what I know. It is a minimal techno record from Sweden; Sweden is a country in Europe; when this record burbles at me through its Elysian haze I want to dance but can’t move; it’s a little worried about loss but 4/4 reassures everyone and that’s why they call it common time. I know less about minimal techno than I do about Sweden but when “Silent” bops its muffled way through me I know some of God’s thoughts, and the rest are details.”

MP3: The Field-“A Paw in Face”

22. Black Moth Super Rainbow-Dandelion Gun [Graveface]

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No really knows very much about Black Moth Super Rainbow and I like it that way. Pithy interviews and prosaic liberal arts college backgrounds couldn’t do anything but deflate the extraterrestrial mystery of their music. When I saw them live (opening for Aesop Rock of all people), they insisted on being cloaked in darkness, a band of shadowy figures writhing in the half-light, backed by a projection of Richard Simmons leading a bunch of porcine senior citizens down the road to fitness and glory. I kid you not. This is how Black Moth Super Rainbow roll, in the hinterlands between whimsical absurdity and Kafka dreams. Like if a Moon Safari-era Air squirted a vial full of liquid acid into their pupils, decided to stop making seduction music for the thinking man’s frat boy, and go to a carnival instead. Dandelion Gum is music as color, all mellotron fantasias of bright blue iris, and candy apple reds, sweet cotton candy tufts of songs that lack grit but always satisfy. It gets a hold of you like a drug and you keep going back to it again and again, even though you probably should’ve gotten sick of it by now. There’s a story in here somewhere. Some nonsense about witches in a forest in Pittsburgh. I’m not sure if I really want to know more about that either. Pittsburgh is frightening enough without witches. The point is that Dandelion Gum resonates because underneath the record’s lazy rainbow drift, you get the lingering doubt that at any moment you’re going to have to wake up from this pretty dream.

MP3: Black Moth Super Rainbow-“Forever Heavy”

21. The Clientele-God Save the Clientele [Merge]

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All you need to know about the Clientele can be gleaned from the fact that their frontman’s first name is Alasdair. With a name like Alasdair, you are fit to do a variety of things: host a masterpiece theater, found a church of Satan, even lead a rock n’ roll band. In fact, the only thing really unifying people with the name Alasdair is that when Americans hear them speak, they will inevitably think them more intelligent than they are. Granted, Alasdair MacLean, lead singer of the Clientele, is actually Scottish, but he was raised in England, the band is based in London and most importantly, they sound so quintessentially British that you expect their albums to be written in conjunction with an imaginary Oscar Wilde screen adaption (who, yes, I know wasn’t English but you see where I’m going with this).

The Clientele are mannered almost to the point of caricature, MacLean’s voice rarely rises above a whisper and his melodies have a delicacy that evokes china tea cups in prim drawing rooms. But where it should come off as dull, overly manicured pop, MacLean’s songwriting abilities continually transcend his extreme Anglophilia. With each album, the Clientele’s arrangements grow more shimmering and intricate, the lyrics more evocative and on “Bookstore Casanova,” the band even lightens up so much that you’d think someone slipped a shot of rum into their Darjeeling. Cheers.

MP3: The Clientele-“Bookshop Casanova”

20. Jens Lekman-Night Falls Over Kortedala [Secretly Canadian]

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On first listen, Jens Lekman reminds you of Morrissey. Like the ex-Smith’s frontman, the 26-year old Swede’s got a rich baritone warble, a sly wit and a penchant for moony-eyed romanticism. But that’s where the similarities stop. Lekman’s the sort who’d write a song (“A Postcard to Nina”) about posing as the boyfriend of his lesbian friend while on vacation in Berlin. If a girl from Berlin asked Morrissey to do something like that, he’d probably laugh at her, tell her she was fat and head to the local leather club.

You’d want Jens Lekman to date your sister. He’s completely non-threatening, sharply-dressed and witty. The kind of guy chap who has no problem telling the media that he’s in “love with being in love.” This is probably because of Lekman is Swedish, and let’s be honest, we’d all be pretty stoked too if we had six weeks of vacation, universal health care, good cheap vodka, and 6-foot tall blonde bombshells around every korner. But what separates Lekman from other sappy singer-songwriters is his sense of humanity. He doesn’t blame his lesbian friend’s father for his bigotry. Instead, he’s a “sweet old man who just can’t understand.” With its nostalgic longing, “Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo” reminds you of a Swedish version of The Talking Heads’ “The Big Country.” Yet rather than sneering “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me,” Lekman dreams of bringing some friends out to the country and turning the clock back to 1952. Sure it’s a tad Vanilla, but give the guy a break, what’s he supposed to do, complain about much he hates Ikea?

MP3: Jens Lekman-“Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo”

19. Kanye West-Graduation [Roc-A-Fella]

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I think Graduation is the 19th best record of the year but I still kind of hate it. This is partially because I am a “hater” (maybe), but also partially because anything by Kanye West is surprisingly easy to hate. Accordingly, there are any number of gripes that you might have with Graduation. “Drunk and Hot Girls” has by now probably been used in 43 fraternity date rapes. It features Chris Martin, which makes it 33 percent more boring. It features more synths than a Depeche Mode record, which makes it 66 percent more gay. And lyrically, Kanye’s never been this simplistic. I mean “Let’s get lost tonight/you could be my black Kate Moss tonight?” Really?

But over-ambition has always been West’s trademark and Graduation is no different, containing as much brilliance as it is has hubris. Blessed with the ability to tap into the main vein of the zeitgeist, Kanye mixes and mashes everything everything from Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne to Daft Punk and Michael Jackson, to Steely Dan and Can, to Jay-Z and DJ Premier. If the hoary cliche reads that there’s something for everyone, Graduation is the rare record that actually delivers. On the mic, Kanye is still never going to be anyone’s favorite MC, but he’s improved with time. Most importantly, he’s learned how to minimize his flaws and maximize his strengths. Even if he’s still arrogant enough to brag that you can’t tell him nothing, at the very least, Graduation is good enough for him to have earned that right.

MP3: Kanye West-“Everything I Am”

18. Beirut-The Flying Club Cup [Ba Da Bing]

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Have you ever looked at the way outdoor cats stare out the window when they’re trapped inside on a sunny day. How their eyes seem to open up wider than movie screens, as though whatever is going on just outside that thin glass pane is the most important thing in the entire world. Well, that’s sort of how I get whenever I listen to Beirut. No matter where I am when I hear it, I know that someplace else is better. It’s the sort of music that makes me want to be in some remote corner of a strange Eastern European republic, sipping acidic coffee and smoking Turkish cigarettes that taste like asphalt while listening to a clan of gypsy buskers crashing their way through an exotic, melancholy ballad. Beirut makes you want to travel when you’re land-locked and when you get old enough to realize that that sort of peripatetic existence isn’t always possible, listening to it too much can make you a little crazy. Of course, Beirut’s a prodigy of sorts. He had to be. This is the sort of music that has to be made by someone still young enough to be able to pretend.

MP3: Beirut-“A Sunday Smile”

17. Souvenir-64 [Jabalina]

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One of the most irritating things about music criticism circa 2007 is the way in which critics seem to think that having the taste of a 13-year old girl is a badge of honor. Check out out this Slate article where Jody Rosen brags about having “more wussy girl-pop on his year-end list than any other critic.” Of course everyone has the right to their own tastes but no one should be proud that their Top 25 Best songs of the year list includes cuts from Jennifer Lopez, Mickey Avalon, Mika, Katherine McPhee, and Gwen Stefani. What bothers me so much isn’t as much the brainlessness of the music in question but rather the thought that more often than not critics don’t dig very deep and instead conflate “good music” with “popular music.”

Souvenir is the type of group that popist critics should be talking about. Watch the video above. Their music is as glossy as it comes, washed with 80s keyboards, cocaine synths and breathy chanteuse vocals. And the entire album is great, sort of like the bastard child of Fujiya & Miyagi and Annie. Instead, Souvenir didn’t appear on a single year-end list that I’ve seen and consequently you probably skipped over this entire section because you have no idea who Souvenir are. But you should. 80s-style French pop with surf guitars typically isn’t my type of music, but 64 is so good that it transcends its genre. Watch the video above. Download the song below. Get your fix of sugar and obscene catchiness. I promise you this is better than the J-Lo record.

MP3: Souvenir-“Les Surfeurs”

16. Lupe Fiasco-The Cool [Atlantic]

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Lupe Fiasco is the best rapper to emerge from the major label system in this decade. Those are strong words until you consider the competition. Kanye’s still way more of a producer than a rhymer. The Game’s good but lacks originality. 50 was past his prime as soon as he hit it and even Young Jeezy’s fans have to pretend that he’s more of a motivational speaker than a rapper. But in terms of pure ability, from vocabulary to rhyme patterns, from technical skill to conceptual originality, Lupe Fiasco is clearly ahead of the rest. For all practical purposes, Lupe should be considered the second coming for people who consider themselves fans of “that real hip-hop.”Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

There’s only one problem, Lupe Fiasco isn’t really hip-hop. He’s something else entirely. Of course, he’s a rapper, but he’s too creative and too much of an original to get boxed into genre constraints. What Nas really meant was that the NYC-centric, punch-you-in-your-face version of “real hip-hop,” is dead, “hip-hop” will always live in some form. And Fiasco’s very much of the new generation trying to break free of the elders’ out-moded thinking. He raps that he’s “American mentally with Japanese tendencies and Parisian sensibilities. Raw he’s not going to give it you. Like all genius’ (Jay-Z’s words, not mine), Fiasco is prone to bad decision-making. This album is a little too emo and Matthew Santos has a nice voice but he doesn’t belong anywhere near a hip-hop album. Yet The Cool is that rare major-label rap that demands rewinding, and yes, refuses to dumb it down.

MP3: Lupe Fiasco-“Paris, Tokyo”

15. The White Stripes-Icky Thump [Warner Bros]

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Icky Thump is the sound of Jack White remembering how to have fun again. Get Behind Me Satan was cool and all but let’s get real, no one really wanted to hear melancholy piano ballads and acoustic love-lorn laments that may or may not have been about Renee Zellweger marrying the most closeted man in music not nicknamed Weezy Fitzgerald Baby. On Icky Thump White thankfully sheds the marimbas and mustaches of his last record, picks up his axe and rocks the fuck out. If this were hip-hop, you’d say that he’s got his swag back.

Indeed, the heartbroken spite that lurked underneath Get Behind Me Satan is gone, replaced with a smirk, the occasional bag pipe (shades of Flintheart Glomgold) and a snarling hissing guitar that White can make squawk better than anyone in contemporary music. On “Rag and Bone,” Meg and Jack cast themselves as junk-collecting scavengers. “Conquest” features White covering Patti Page like Robert Plant had he grown up a toreador. Icky Thump marks the longest the White Stripes have ever taken to make a record: three weeks. And it shows in its more fully-fleshed out arrangements and White’s best lyrics since White Blood Cells. Once more, Jack White has tunneled his way out of the traps he’s set for himself, proving himself worthy of being called the last great rock star.

MP3: The White Stripes-“Icky Thump”

14. Dalek-Abandoned Language [Ipecac]

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Free jazz, that’s how I’m gonna write it, pure inspiration out of the blob in the brain. So, Dalek. One word: ether. The ether of sound, choirs filling cathedrals to the rafters with ghastly, pristine wails. Boom bap, for serious, better than even Jigga or Kanye, and more assured to, not needing to satisfy anybody but themselves. The ether of language, i.e., language BEING ethered, cultures being erased with time and shifts in tonality and idioms. Complex shit.

Then there’s you being ethered. Incinerated by dense yet vulnerable wordplay that isn’t preaching, really, not the way it did through the guitar pulpit of Absence. Erased like the language it describes. Entangled in ten-minute yarns of Boards of Canadian bliss. Stuck in a horror show that would give Scott Walker nightmares and cushion Stanley Kubrick‘s dreams. There’s a song called “Lynch” where eagle claws cut cello strings. It’s a double meaning, “lynchian” in two ways.

Some may say that rap albums this challenging are trying too hard. The real problem is that you’re not trying hard enough –Tal Rosenberg

MP3: Dalek-“Bricks Crumble”

13. Okkervil River-The Stage Names [Jagjaguwar]

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When a band hails from some place like New Hampshire, I’m to assume they’re either academics or hayseeds in the Days Of The New mold. Maybe it’s the glasses and beard and the band name’s that probably all lit ‘n’ shit, but with Will Sheff, I’m inclined to think it’s the former. I imagine it’s no accident that he spends the opening track of The Stage Names complaining how life can’t compare to what we see on film and then proceeds to make his most epic record to date.

Though you wouldn’t know it from the countless “Counting Crows meets Arcade Fire!” comparisons (I mean, it’s a little accurate), this is one of the riskier records I’ve heard this year because not only is it lyrically-driven (never an indie rock strong point), but it flirts with clichés to a degree where one slip-up could make Sheff seem overly precious at best and an asshole at worst. Songs about porn stars, American Idol, other rock songs, being in a band and VH1 intervention shows- 99.5% of anything inspired by these subjects tends to blow total moose cock, but in trying to reveal the inner workings of Okkervil River, Sheff pulled cards on just about everything outside himself. Bombastic but humane, heartbreaking and hilarious and altogether a phenomenal and literary rock record; you know, sort of what everyone’s pretending Neon Bible actually was. –Ian Cohen

MP3: Okkervil River-“Our Life is Not a Movie, Or Maybe”

12. Burial-Untrue [Hyperdub]

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Untrue isn’t not the sort of record that makes much sense in supine, sun-stunned Los Angeles. It’s a bleak record, ideal for wintertime New York or London, a druggy drunken stagger through black drizzle and an incinerating 5:00 a.m freeze. It’s as asphyxiating and claustrophobic as it is austere and beautiful, a mess of of gurgling vaporous soul samples and popping, crackling, two-step drums. Tal Rosenberg called it the sound of the world eating you alive and that’s as accurate a description as I’ve read. It’s a melancholy, monolithic masterpiece, a water-damaged, grimy mindfuck destined to worm its way into your head and infect your nightmares.

MP3: Burial-“Archangel”

11. Aesop Rock-None Shall Pass [Def Jux]

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Underground pariah Aesop Rock turned down the iron-on gusto petroleum paranoia rhymes and industrial freaker speaker beats to have some coffee with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats on his latest album None Shall Pass, his most introspective and cohesive album since 2001’s awesome Labor Days. Thankfully, the days of Bazooka Tooth and trucker hats are gone.

On this album, Ace Rock wasn’t telling us 20 ways to shut the fuck up (nineteen of them are 24 bars long, you know). Instead, he spun stories of filling Super Soakers with piss and rolling through the suburbs in an ’85 Dodge Aries. He warned of get money-money pigs and bullets that shoot shit. He scolded Davey Jones, who had clearly outstayed his welcome. He proclaimed his love for MCing, the acoustic bass, fuzzy guitars, Blockhead beats, and the inevitable fall from grace. He wore a wolf for a jacket, an alligator for a top hat, and clinked drinks with Dick Fishburg all the while hugging a spider monkey on MTV. Just another year in the life of indie hip hop’s most prolific and poetically astounding MC.-Zilla

MP3: Aesop Rock-“No City”
10. Spoon-Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga [Merge]

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Sasha Frere-Jones is a joke and Spoon can prove it. I mean, if all I had to judge indie rock on was the Arcade Fire and the Decemberists and Sufjan Stevens (all acts I like), maybe I might come up with something as hackish as his risible blow-up, but the best R&B band in the world is comprised of four white dudes who split time between cities the white can’t get enough of (Portland and Austin) and they record for Merge, who also claim such chocolate thunder as The Clientele, White Whale, Destroyer and…Arcade Fire. Because when you use the literal term “rhythm and blues,” that’s pretty much all Spoon songs consist of, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga could very well be the culmination of everything the band has done to date, from the frightening minimalism of “The Ghost Of You Lingers” to the rousing fist-pump of “Black Like Me” (ha!).

One thing I’ve noticed is how Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is seemingly overperforming on year-ends considering that its release was met with a sort of golf-clappy, “yeah- it’s good, but it’s Spoon- the fuck you expect?” I mean, even Cokemachineglow named it #1, a funny result considering that from what I can cull from an occasional glance, they’ve made it an objective to bitch about everything Pitchfork does by writing in a mostly unreadable style reminiscent of someone trying to parody PFM in, say, 2001. Good luck with that, guys. But it got me thinking- what would a bad Spoon song even sound like? The fact that it hardly even seems plausible is the best sort of compliment I can give these guys.–Ian Cohen

MP3: Spoon-“Don’t Make Me A Target”

9. Iron & Wine-The Shepherd’s Dog [Sub Pop]

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In hindsight, the title track of Iron & Wine’s 2005 Women King EP, with its shaggy, moonshine mythology and twisted acoustics, should’ve tipped us off that Sam Beam was capable of something like this. Prior to that he’d fallen victim to “this sounds like Nick Drake but not as good” coffee-shop folk ghetto. But on Shepherd’s Dog, Sam Beam takes the proverbial great leap forward, flashing an astonishing compositional growth honed by stints on tour with Califone and Calexico.

Ragtime waltzes like “The Devil Never Sleeps” stomp with saloon piano keys and a locomotive rhythm section, split open by searing bursts of electric guitar. On “White Tooth Man,” Beam rifles off off a jangling, unsettling jam, full of slinking sitars and lyrics about white toothed men selling guns and plain clothed cops talking to Indian chiefs and other pulp, sepia-toned images. Ignore the Gauguin-were-he-into-bestiality album cover and those neutered Garden State-era caterwauls he used to be known for, Sam Beam is a great songwriter and The Shepherd’s Dog is a gorgeous, haunting slice of Southern Gothic.

MP3: Iron & Wine-“Boy With A Coin”

8. The Besnard Lakes- The Besnard Lakes are the Dark Horse [Jagjaguwar]

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I suspect that The Besnard Lakes stepped out of a time-warp. Front-man Jace Lasek wears cowboy shirts, skin-tight disco pants and rocks huge CHiPs sunglasses. His wife, Olga sings how you’d expect a frozen Grecian statue to sing if it were to come to life, an angelic, ghostly peal that I’d imagine Joanna Newsom sounded like had I only read her press clippings. Except Olga doesn’t play the harp and frolic in dewy meadows all day long like Jo-Jo Dancer, instead, she twiddles a too-big-for-her-body bass, chugs whiskey on-stage and sings songs about spies. I imagine that these songs are autobiographical. People named Olga can only be spies or Belarusian gymnasts.

I don’t quite know how to describe We Are the Dark Horse because it’s one of those things that only manages to evokes incredibly simple images, like clots of gray clouds parting to reveal a bronze sun, or lazy blue rivers laughing past you on the first hot day of spring, the sort of trite metaphors that can only feel apt when music hits you at such a primal gut level. The sound is possessed with a strange, atavistic beauty, a mysterious form of big sky psychedelia filled with frazzled violins, end-of-the world guitars and stadium drums. It’s the rare record filled with epic ambitions that manages to deliver on its promises of transcendence. Fuck all that angels and harp bullshit. these are the sort of dazed, bruised beautiful tunes you’d really want playing in heaven.

MP3: The Besnard Lakes-“And You Lied To Me”

7. Caribou-Andorra [Merge]

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There was a healthy amount of sixties nostalgia this year: Person Pitch, Black Lips, King Khan, folk jamz, and maybe Ghostface on the throwback tip (although that’s probably closer to the seventies (whatever, Wu sampled the Beatles fer chrissakes)). So why Caribou? Of all the Beach Boys loops, inane hooting and hollering, the chicken scratch and the filet, why is not just the best Summer of Luv shout out of ’07 but one of the best albums of ’07, the product of one dude in Harry Caray glasses in his closet in London? Maybe it’s because where many of those albums stuck to the basics, Dan Snaith decided to flood us in flutes, keyboards, sitars, strings, saxes, splashes, and sadness. “He’s writing real songs now” was a description sighing “faineant.” Songs has never been what this guy was about, but that’s not saying there aren’t melodies. The first track is called “Melody Day,” and it’s a great “song!”

The point is that the man never lost his touch, he’s just changing his game, every single time, and still delivering innovative, energetic, and visceral MUSIC, for people who love MUSIC! Dan Snaith loves sounds, records, moments. He wants you to love them too. And at the very moment you’re smitten, suspended inches off the ground, he takes a drum kit and boxes you three rounds. TELL ME WHAT ELSE THIS YEAR MADE YOU FEEL MORE ALIVE?!? –Tal Rosenberg

MP3: Caribou-“Melody Day”

6. The National-Boxer [Beggar’s Banquet]

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As long as there are jukeboxes in bars people will listen to Boxer. Its a last call sort of record, full of sad, liquored-up revelations and a sense of sarcastic triumphalism in spite of lead singer Matt Berninger’s acknowledgment of the futility of it all: aging, death, love lost, corporate jobs, irreversible mistakes et al. Crooning with a whiskey-worn baritone, only James Murphy might be better than Berninger at capturing the sense of alienation felt among college-educated, thirty-something, un-married urbanites of this generation (I’m sure an aspiring sociologist somewhere has already turning in a graduate school thesis on “All My Friends.”).

Indeed, with its electro-rock fusion and diatribes against Giuliani, trust-fund hipsters and I-Bankers, Sound Of Silver may actually be the flip side of Boxer, with Berninger’s alcoholic confessionals invoking an older melancholy Edward Hopper Manhattan, all noirish ballads and boozy shades of gray. It’s sonic DNA is steak and potatoes; piano-man laments and guitar rock, beefed up occasionally with strings and brass. The Sound of Silver is a gift for the coke crowd, Boxer is a tribute to the days of 2-martini lunches. The sort of record that beautifully captures a sense of slow erosion, so in response decides to order another drink. After the triumph of 2005’s Alligator, the National have raised the bar and drained it all at the same time.

MP3: The National-“Fake Empire”