Top Ten Plus

Register behind me bird in Arular's Sunday Illinois woodz machine

When Late Registration turned out to be More Songs About Buildings and Food and It Takes a Nation of Millions instead of Give 'Em Enough Rope or King of Rock, there was too much nervous applause and not enough enthusiasm.

Alfred Soto
Miami, Florida

The Hold Steady, #8 album
photo: Judson Baker
The Hold Steady, #8 album

West takes no chances on his own shit, bringing in firepower he hardly needs. He doesn't just sample—he orchestrates multiple samples, even turning them into something symphonic and getting away with it. But this musical platform would be mere popcraft without his rhymes—his personality, the one that popped out less artfully when he charged George Bush with not caring about black people. Kanye cares because he knows who he is, where he's come from, and who's in his boat.

Tom Hull
Wichita, Kansas

Everywhere Late Registration provides little sonic miracles—right now, I'm loving the plink and harmony flow of "Gone."

Philip Martin
Little Rock, Arkansas

I love the way West and Jon Brion saturate the mix and keep the melodic and rhythmic structures evolving instead of simply riding a loop. The album reminds me of mid-'70s Stevie Wonder—not just its zeitgeist- tapping point of view but all the can't-get-it-out-of-my head hooks. What a relief to find someone who understands that in pop music it's not enough for big statements to be admired; they should also be enjoyed.

J.D. Considine
Toronto, Ontario

Let's face it, M.I.A. could be shouting out a brisket recipe and I wouldn't know the difference. Arular's strange transmissions must be what it was like for Churchill's Brits to hear rural blues, or for repressed Czechs to hear ninth-generation Velvets bootlegs, and living in the Country That Invented Everything, I'm happy to understand what it means to feel like an outsider.

Rob Tannenbaum

There's nothing inherently admirable about the amalgamation, but Arular does arrive at some sort of cosmopolitan Shangri-la with its cross-faded mix of grime, dancehall, Missy and Timbaland, baile funk, vintage video game soundtracks, righteous populism, dirty sex rhymes, silly terrorism chic, and hiccuping whoops. Or maybe it was just a very nearly perfect British pop album.

Dylan Hicks
Minneapolis, Minnesota

I love the way Maya Arulpragasam maintains an undercurrent of tunefulness in her raps, as well as her technique of introducing a rhythmic motif and then doubling it up, thus intensifying its impact. A pity that much of the press ignored this, instead focusing on her politics and back story.

J.D. Considine
Toronto, Ontario

I like Sufjan's unexpected melodies, the bona fide literary inspiration, the complex but not rococo arrangements. Like Van Dyke Parks, he thinks like a "serious composer," digs banjos and folk songs, and finds a way to make fussed-over book-type language sing. Except I've never heard a Van Dyke Parks record quite this good, not even the one he made with the Beach Boy.

Dylan Hicks
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Stevens's geographical OCD isn't nearly as interesting as his mastering of indie-rock rambling, orchestral beauty, and a never-too-far-underwater sense of humor. A calliope machine at the Chicago World's Fair set to stun.

Jeff Vrabel
Jacksonville, Florida

Just when you thought Sleater-Kinney were set to go quietly into that good night, content to issue the expected to a Pavlovian pack of drooling critics, they go Totally Fucking Gonzo, hire a producer who doesn't even like their back catalog, split town for his upstate New York studio, fuss and fight for months on end (with him, and each other), and ultimately end up issuing one earth-moving, soul-shaking monster of an album. "If your art is done/Johnny get your gun," spits Carrie Brownstein. "We're not here 'cause we want to entertain."

Corey du Browa
Lake Oswego, Oregon

Fiona Apple raked in publicity from an album title gone berserk. She went berserk on stage and raked in more publicity. Someone leaked her latest on the Internet, so she had it stripped down and officially released—to widespread acclaim and sales. If she ever has a functional relationship, maybe she'll turn her banshee laser on the world and there'll be no place to hide.

James Hannaham
Austin, Texas

Get Behind Me Satan is biblical shit. Jack, the prodigal son, returns from nights out carousing with the lecherous and the wicked to his loving family who will always welcome him home, no questions asked. Jack says he's seeking truth but Meg knows he's really after forgiveness.

Tim Grierson
Los Angeles, California

I like how Craig Finn nails that tone of homesick blues—homesick like he remembers home, and homesick like he left because he was sick of it. It's Winesburg, Ohio recollected in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, pushing 30 backwards with warmth and strength that wouldn't be so hard for other bands to copy if they dared to think it was possible. Warm and strong—every time I hear Separation Sunday, it reminds me what a sap I am for settling for one or the other.

Rob Sheffield
Brooklyn, New York

Craig Finn sings like a man who was born to run but never stop looking back over his shoulder.

Max Berry
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Oh, Antony Hegarty—I couldn't decide whether I wanted to fuck your brains out or just commiserate with you over a few stiff vodka tonics. Such is the power of the tranny torch song, as I can't stand vodka at all.

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