Critics' Picks for 2007

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

Radiohead, In Rainbows (ATO/Red). In Rainbows made headlines for the unique pay-what-you-want distribution method by which it first greeted the public. For that reason, the music tended to be overlooked amid all the hoopla about shattered paradigms, and that's a pity, since these ten songs make up Radiohead's most well-rounded, consistent and thoroughly enjoyable recording in years. That's a bargain at any price. — Roberts

Red Pony Clock, God Made Dirt (Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records). Unflinchingly honest and introspective lyrics have always been Gabe Saucedo's strong point. Instead of a voyeuristic peek into a troubled mind, these songs tell us that we're not alone in our angst and insecurity. Coupled with warm and lush loungey pop, each track is a salve to our inner adolescents. — Murphy

Fionn Regan, The End of History (Lost Highway). A finalist for the Mercury Prize, The End of History will be the beginning of a love affair with Regan's work for any admirer of singer-songwriting that's both pretty and perceptive. Although "The Underwood Typewriter," "Hunters Map" and the rest seem fragile, they're built on a sturdy foundation of evocative imagery and clear-eyed sensitivity. — Roberts

The Rosebuds, Night of the Furies (Merge). Gracefully changing from twee-pop tunesmiths to a darkly dancing duo, Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp probably surprised themselves as much as they did everyone else. To have done it at all is a remarkable feat in itself, but to have done it with such convincing attitude and lack of pretension proves these two lovebirds mean it. — Eyl

Dino Saluzzi & Anja Lechner, Ojos Negros (ECM) Once again, Dino Saluzzi shows us why he's the world's master of the bandoneon. While long steeped in the ways of tango music, he breaks away from that approach on this chamber-meets-avant-jazz album. Along with cellist Anja Lechner, also a member of the acclaimed Rosamunde Quartett, the two make stunning music together. — Solomon

Sam Yahel Trio, Truth & Beauty (Origin). Organist Yahel, drummer Brian Blade and saxophonist Joshua Redman have worked together in various settings. On Truth & Beauty, the interplay of the trio shines, with Yahel giving the occasional nod to Larry Young, Redman's seasoned tenor work and Blade's snappy timekeeping. — Solomon

Antonio Sanchez, Migration (CamJazz). Pat Metheny once said the drummer was the most important musician in his band. Antonio Sanchez has been playing with Metheny since 2002, if that tells you anything. On his debut as a leader, Sanchez enlisted Metheny, Chick Corea and tenor players David Sanchez and Chris Potter, whose dual sax assault propels Sanchez's playing throughout. — Solomon

Savage Republic, 1938 (Neurot Recordings). Eighteen years after their last album, these pioneers of industrialized post-punk and bellicose tribalism return with a soundtrack for the coming apocalypse. Bringing together twin virtues of grandiloquent austerity and dreamy exoticism, this record is a sprawling epic — a bit like Ennio Morricone scoring doomsday backed by the Cure and Joy Division. — Murphy

Bruce Springsteen, Magic (Columbia). Not to sound ageist, but most veteran rockers spend the autumn of their careers living off the past because the present is so problematic. Springsteen, whose last two decades' worth of albums have often seemed heavy-handed and overly self-conscious, beats these odds on Magic by combining seriousness of purpose with his strongest batch of music since the glory days. — Roberts

Richard Swift, Dressed Up for the Letdown (Secretly Canadian). Although Richard Swift sings of his letdowns in the music biz on the sweetly melancholic "Artists & Repertoire," Letdown is his most successful record to date. Tipping his hat to Paul McCartney and Harry Nilsson, the witty Swift has created a near-masterpiece that sounds like it could have been recorded in the mid-'70s. — Solomon

The Tea Cozies, The Tea Cozies (As Seen On Records). The precocious child of Brit and indie pop, Seattle's Tea Cozies sound as great as any of their influences on their debut EP. Underneath the fiery emotions expressed is an undeniably accessible charm. Playful, passionate and defiant, the band's catchy songs are intelligent, strong and well-crafted. — Murphy

Theory Hazit, Extra Credit (Hip-Hop Is Music). On his debut album, Theory Hazit tackles topics that no one in hip-hop is talking about, from gossiping to the dynamics of a stepfamily to the spiritual side of life — all over banging beats. Hazit is the most slept-on rapper of the year. — Salazar-Moreno

T.I., T.I. Vs. T.I.P. (Grand Hustle/Atlantic). No denying it: T.I. Vs. T.I.P. is a flawed album. Still, in one of the weakest years for hip-hop since Kool Herc's heyday, the ambition and looniness that distinguish this quirky face-off between different aspects of T.I.'s personality — not to mention infectious jams such as "Big Shit Poppin' (Do It)" — lift this disc above the competition. — Roberts

Trans Am, Sex Change (Thrill Jockey). This longstanding post-rock band shaves off the glorious excesses of its previous efforts to create concise, propulsive, experimental pop songs. Never forgetting what has made it consistently interesting, the group continues to fearlessly splice together early analog synth-pop drones and driving, adventurous prog rock. The musical equivalent of a William Friedkin thriller. — Murphy

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