Critics' Picks for 2007

Backbeat scribes sound off on their favorite releases of the past year.

K-Os, Atlantis: Hymns for the Disco (Virgin Records). By now, you can pretty much depend on K-Os to deliver the most soulful hip-hop of the year, which he did once again with Atlantis. The disc is a mix of raw hip-hop with classic soul, rock and blues, making it freakishly addictive. — Salazar-Moreno

Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Raising Sand (Rounder). Produced by T Bone Burnett and featuring the unlikely duo of Krauss and Plant, this could have been one hell of an unfortunate dud, but it's not. Set against the Grammy-gilded pipes of Nashville's Krauss, Plant's proto-metal vocals smack with the same ethereal and druidic quality that helped him elevate electrified blues and bell bottoms to worldwide acclaim. — Hutchinson

KRS-One & Marley Marl, Hip-Hop Lives (Koch Records) — This is KRS's fifteenth album and a direct response to Nas's Hip-Hop Is Dead, from 2006. Produced by onetime rival Marley Marl, KRS makes his point that hip-hop is alive and well, and this disc will make you fall in love with it all over again. — Salazar-Moreno

Talib Kweli, Ear Drum (Warner Bros.). With a new record label and a new crew (Blacksmith Movement), Talib came out with a renewed energy this year. Ear Drum broaches his continual struggle in the industry, the struggles of the youth in the streets, and the black community's struggle with spirituality. — Salazar-Moreno

Tord Gustavsen Trio, Being There (ECM). There's something about Scandinavian pianists and their Nordic improvisational sensibilities that's a bit dark and slightly moody. Tord Gustavsen proves no exception. His playing and compositional skills are tremendously lyrical and introspective, and he's definitely on the top of his game with Being There. — Solomon

LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver (DFA Records). Previously, James Murphy came off as a wizened wiseacre whose only depth was in his record collection. This slab of dark disco, however, plays like a sincere, guileless soundtrack to a midlife crisis. The graying hipster, who once bemoaned losing his edge, finds growing up under the disco lights has only made him sharper — if a little sadder. — Eyl

M.I.A., Kala (Interscope). Shamelessly and playfully borrowing from a broad range of musical styles, M.I.A. is a sonic revolutionary on par with the political agenda of her lyrics. Kala finds Bollywood pop colliding with sound collage, hip-hop dancing raga with sub-Saharan voodoo shamanism. Socially critical music never sounded so fun. — Murphy

Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau, Quartet (Nonesuch). Last year, guitarist Metheny and pianist Mehldau released an outstanding album of duets. The two have a similar knack for improvisation, and hearing them stretch out and push each other in this quartet setting is even more dynamic. — Solomon

Minus the Bear, Planet of Ice (Suicide Squeeze Records). Anyone who thinks of progressive music as either willfully difficult or excessively airy-fairy will be disabused of that notion by this Seattle outfit's take on the approach once known as art rock. Tracks such as "White Mystery" are propulsive and accessible even as they eschew hackneyed structures for more adventurous tangents. Minus adds up to a plus. — Roberts

The National, Boxer (Beggar's Banquet). There's nothing flashy or extravagant about this album; it's just tightly executed, subtle and powerful rock music for grownups. There's not a bad song among the dozen found here, but the best of them — "Fake Empire," "Apartment Story," and "Slow Show," in particular — rise to the level of classics. — Casciato

Office, A Night at the Ritz (Scratchie Records). Scott Masson's brainchild makes studio-perfectionist pop that shimmers and salivates with addictive hooks, sassy come-ons and irresistible ear-candy melodies. But beneath the sparkle, there's enough grit to give A Night at the Ritz complexity and texture. Fittingly released on James Iha's Scratchie imprint, this meticulously crafted gem was years in the making and pays off with pure pop-rock pleasure. — Eyl

Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer? (Polyvinyl). Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes took us on an all-access guided tour of his disintegrating psyche, set the whole thing to a spectacular mix of throbbing, glittery synth-pop dance funk and created the best soundtrack to a nervous breakdown ever imagined, much less realized. Breakup albums are for teenagers; thank God (and Barnes) for this breakdown album. — Casciato

Panda Bear, Person Pitch (Paw Tracks). If Brian Wilson had fled to Germany to escape his problems in the '70s and joined Faust, Person Pitch could have been made thirty years ago. Sweet vocal melodies and harmonies dipped in velvety reverb and arranged around quietly bizarre grooves form the core of this excellent expedition into the experimental fringes of what constitutes pop. — Casciato

Pharoahe Monch, Desire (SRC Records/Universal). On his first album in seven years, Pharoahe Monch delivers the absolute best lyrical performance of the year, hands down. With witticisms like "A slave to my label, but I own my masters" littered throughout, you know you've got something special. — Salazar-Moreno

Pink Reason, By a Thread (Trick Knee Productions). Pink Reason is arguably the first post-punk band in years to have come out of hardcore rather than the first wave of punk rock. This three-song seven-inch from the promising Green Bay outfit is proof that some of the most innovative and original music comes from unlikely places. Its noisy beauty is unforgettable. — Murphy

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