BOB DYLAN: is laughing and lusting as the apocalypse approaches.
1. Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra | Boulevard De L’independence | Nonesuch
The kora kingpin leaves behind the folk music and gives a big-ass band the green light to fill the dance floor. An intricate, best-of-both-worlds maneuver that rides along on a rich parade of textures.
2. Sonic Youth | Rather Ripped | Geffen
Upending an esthetic built on extrapolation, the graying improvisers cut everything down to size on this still-experimental romp. Call it a testament to the diversity of guitar sounds. Plus: the glee of their creative process is obvious at every turn.
3. Neko Case | Fox Confessor Brings The Flood | Anti-
A chanteuse in chaps, Case made her most compelling statement yet with a disc of atmospheric ditties that soar on her lusty coo and some mildly arcane lyrics. Don’t forget the string of images that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dylan album.
4. My Chemical Romance | The Black Parade | Reprise
If you’re gloomy and you know it, clap your hands. And if one of your career goals is concocting a finely etched palace of pessimism, grab that eyeliner and get to work. The year’s most majestic blast of despair.
5. Bob Dylan | Modern Times | Columbia
Laughing and lusting as the apocalypse approaches (“all those ladies in Washington better get outta town!”) pop’s wise man acts like a blues whippersnapper — the record, almost as entertaining as Love and Theft, teems with barbs, riddles, and — as if you didn’t know — philosophy.
6. Joanna Newsom | YS | Drag City
Yup, she makes you come to her, and nope, it ain’t always easy. But the celebrated harpist with the Olive Oyl voice and the anachronistic lyrics has enough artistic authority to reward every bit of work she asks of you. With echoes of Astral Weeks and other unorthodox song cycles floating through the air, she has you rethinking the power of nature and the thrill of desire.
7. Ghostface Killah | Fishscale | Def Jam
MCs either turn a phrase or they don’t. The Staten Island Wu-meister rehashes old territory (street rip-offs, bullets flying, sex, sex, sex) with inspiration galore. There’s nary a minute that doesn’t captivate with a combo of vivid beats, poetic rhymes, and — take it, G — a flatly fabulous flow.
8. Regina Spektor | Begin To Hope | Sire
The classically-trained boho grabbed a producer to help her go pop, and it changed everything. Here’s where her trademark whimsy plays footsie with unmistakable hooks, and man, does it pay off. Watch your back, Nellie McKay.
9. Marisa Monte | Universo Ao Meu Redor | EMI
Full-on samba from a modern-minded Brazilian belle who likes to mess with tradition even when she’s giving it a smooch or two. The approach is light — can samba be spun any other way? But there are enough quirks to personalize the pieces. And, long story short, Monte’s voice is one of the world’s wonders.
10. The Hold Steady | Boys and Girls in America | Vagrant
Sometimes it seems like a collection of party anthems; other times it seems like an indictment against the social torpor of the ’burbs. Craig Finn’s enough of a writer to make both resonate with verity after verity about the distance we place between us. He sells it to middle-agers like me by pinching classic rock references and singing like a punk.