By Natalya Jones
By County Grind
By Liz Tracy
By Chris Joseph
By Liz Tracy
By Matt Preira
By Jesse Scheckner
By Michael E. Miller
8. Turbonegro, Apocalypse DudesSublime Swedish meatballs who look like Marilyn Manson Mouseketeers, write like giggling Blink 182 disciples ("Rendezvous with Anus"), and inexplicably rock like Fugazi before old age and crippling self-righteous artiness finally set in. Song title of the year: "Don't Say Motherfucker, Motherfucker."
9. Fountains of Wayne, Welcome Interstate ManagersIn which the 30-something über-nerds pen "Stacy's Mom," a soul-obliteratingly infectious ditty about an underage chump lusting after his classmate's maternal guardian. Get the fuck out of town. Not one second of this hyperliterate wiseass-fest doesn't drip pure smarm, but with pop this sharp, the smirks feel like smiles, the elitist kicks like kisses. Verily, they got it goin' on.
10. Randy, Welfare ProblemsIf Mountain Dew finances an Animal Housesequel set at an NHL playoff game on nickel beer night, "A Man in Uniform" will blare over the PA as the inevitable brawl breaks out -- a fabulously butt-stupid fist-pumping anthem for mooks too self-medicated to ball their hands into fists. The insanely catchy "X-Ray Eyes," meanwhile, is far better a Strokes song than anything Room on Firepuked out. This is either smart people pretending to be spectacularly dumb or vice versa.
But then again, aren't we all? -- Rob Harvilla
It's been an anxious year for the Latin music industry, as it has for the industry in general. The good news in a time of crisis: The crassest pop acts fade away; the acts that survive are fired up by a personal vision. While some of the best albums of the year have received massive commercial success, most of these gems come from artists who would surely be making the same great music even if there were no one out there listening. Take a listen: Here are five choice recordings well worth making an investment in.
1. Café Tacuba, Cuatro Caminos Mexico City's avant-rock quartet Café Tacuba continues to explore the far reaches of the electronic ether without ever losing sight of what it means to rock out. Cuatro Caminos ("Four Paths") veers from the raw energy of a street party to the interior murmur of private anguish, from the heady cacophony of a video arcade to heartfelt but never trite confessions of love. There is no more complete -- or more satisfying -- road map for living in the digital age.
2. Chucho Valdes, New Conceptions One of the best albums yet by one of the all-time greats of Latin jazz, New Conceptions gives yet another twist to the longstanding fusion of African-American and Afro-Cuban traditions. Valdes opens with Cuban master Ernesto Lecuona and closes with a homage to Duke Ellington, revisiting Miles along the way -- but it is the pianist's own reinvention of all that has gone before him that makes New Conceptions so breathtaking. His own compositions included here, especially the achingly beautiful piano/cello duo "Nanu" and the experiment in rhythm that is "Sin Clave pero con Swing" ("Without Clave but with Swing") prove that Chucho's name belongs in the company of those composers to whom he pays tribute. This is as good as music gets.
3. Issac Delgado, Versos en el Cielo This is what romantic salsa could have sounded like had anyone bothered to make it well: inspired lyrics, creative arrangements, stunning musicianship, and the unsurpassed voice of Cuban singer Issac Delgado. Politically untouchable on Latin radio in the United States, Versos en el Cielo ("Verses in Heaven") is a collection of love songs by the greats of the island's Nueva Trova era set to sophisticated salsa arrangements that will thrill your soul and feed your mind.
4. Kevin Johansen & the Nada, Sur o No Sur
It's a long way from CBGBs to Buenos Aires, but Kevin Johansen knows the journey well. The onetime leader of the weekend house band in the acoustic gallery at the legendary punk club, Johansen returned to his mother's homeland during Argentina's economic meltdown in 2001. Sur o No Sur ("South or Not South") is the sonic boom set off by that crazy trip. More a series of vignettes than a collection of songs, Sur o No Sur takes listeners on a tour from blues through bossa nova to milonga fueled by quirky humor and astonishing insight. 5. Kinky, Atlas
It's not enough for Monterrey quintet Kinky to make noise. They want to know what noise is made of. What color is sound? What does it taste like? What is the shape of silence? Kinky takes nothing for granted, whether programming beats or coming up with hard-rockin' riffs. If all of that sounds a little too philosophical, don't worry: Atlas is all about fun. It's just not any kind of fun you've had before. -- Celeste Fraser Delgado
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. While rap music all but dominated the pop charts in 2003, it also led to one of the lamest record crops (barring Outkast, God bless them) in recent memory. Even the ever-lovable Snoop Dogg was cranking out hip-pop bullshit like "Beautiful" to satisfy the suburban kids lapping up his gangsta fantasies. Meanwhile, the much-maligned underground had little to offer besides quixotic musings (Aesop Rock's controversial Bazooka Tooth, Beans' inscrutable Tomorrow Right Now) and criminally ignored flights of fancy (Lyrics Born's unique Later That Day). As Missy Elliott put it, hip-hop better wake up.