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by Eric Schneider

1. Radiohead - Kid A

Is it really that good? Sure is.

2. The Delgados - The Great Eastern

This melancholy masterpiece by one of Scotland's best bands is a must for fans of Belle & Sebastian, Velvet Underground, and My Bloody Valentine. And it bears the distinction of being the Dave Fridmann-produced album of the year, after The Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin in 1999 and Mercury Rev - Deserter's Songs in 1998.

3. Giant Sand - Chore of Enchantment

Easily the best album of the Arizona-based band's long career, this stunning, ramshackle collection of songs features everything from the thunderous "Satellite" to the beautifully meditative "Dirty From The Rain." Its equally essential internet-and-tour-only companion album, Official Bootleg Series - Volume 2: The Rock Opera Years, includes a brilliant cover of Neil Young's "Music Arcade," with guests Evan Dando and Victoria Williams.

4. PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

The product of her six-month stint in New York, this is an instant PJ classic that features some of her most rocked-out and beautiful songs to date. Plus, Radiohead's Thom Yorke on shows up on three songs, most notably on "This Mess We're In."

5. Joe Pernice - Big Tobacco & Chappaquiddick Skyline

Pernice Brothers leader Joe Pernice should get the award for most prolific musician of the year, releasing not only two albums (one under his own name and one under the odd alias of Chappaquiddick Skyline), but a tour-only EP as well. Gorgeous, catchy, and heartbreaking, Pernice's songs will stay in your head for days. (New Order fans take note: there's an great version of "Leave Me Alone" on Chappaquiddick Skyline.)

6. Björk - Selmasongs

Yeah, it's only seven songs, but "Cvalda," "I've Seen It All," and "In The Musicals" alone are worth the price of admission. The utterly unique Icelandic diva does it again. And wouldn't you know it...musical MVP Thom Yorke is on this one, too.

7. Badly Drawn Boy - The Hour of the Bewilderbeast

Does this eccentric Brit live up to the recent hype? Pretty much. Although Damon Gough's 18-track debut album contains a few minor missteps, songs such as "The Shining," "Everybody's Stalking," and "Camping Next To Water" are undeniably excellent. His musical recipe—which seems to consist of generous portions of Elliott Smith and Nick Drake sautéed in the lo-fi weirdness of aged Pavement, Beck, and Ween—is pretty intriguing, which is more than you can say about most new acts these days.

8. Calexico - Hot Rail

Like 1998's The Black Light, the latest album by the duo of Joey Burns and John Convertino (a.k.a. Giant Sand's rhythm section) is strikingly atmospheric—dark, jazzy music for an unfilmed spaghetti Western. Their tour-only instrumental album Travelall is equally astounding and includes additional musicians such as Doug McCombs and Noel Kupersmith of Brokeback.

9. Billy Bragg and Wilco - Mermaid Avenue II

Though it contains a few cheesy tracks ("I Was Born" and "Aginst Th' Law"), the collection is a worthy companion to Billy Bragg and Wilco's first Guthrie-based album. This time around Jeff Tweedy's songs, especially "Airline To Heaven" and "Remember The Mountain Bed," generally outshine Bragg's tunes.

10. Broadcast - The Noise Made By People

The second full-length effort by these retro-futurists follows up on the promise of their various EPs. Though these inventive Brits often get compared to Stereolab, their album is far more interesting than the latter's recent output. And anyone who has seen a Broadcast performance knows they can deliver the goods in concert.

Honorable Mentions:

Johnny Cash - American III: Solitary Man

Ween - White Pepper

- Eric Schneider


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