Critics' Picks for 2007

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

Ween, La Cucaracha (Rounder). Dumb lyrics and smart tunes are Ween's trademark, and this latest album is no exception. If you can get over — or be amused by — the locker-room juvenilia in the lyrics, these songs will absolutely amaze. Sure, there are a couple of throwaways here, but the best material ranks among Ween's strongest. — Casciato

Kanye West, Graduation (G.O.O.D. Music/Universal). With his third album, Kanye West proves that he's one of the most consistent artists in the game. Whatever he delivers, it's sure to be cocky and arrogant, yet you can't stop singing along and bumping the disc in the ride for months at a time. — Salazar-Moreno

White Rabbits, Fort Nightly (Say Hey Records). This rollicking, raucous NYC collective makes bittersweet, piano-driven garage rock that would make both Mott the Hoople and Arcade Fire grin with glee. From glistening summer pop to greasy alleyway rock, White Rabbits' dual drummers and dueling vocalists turn in an eccentric, eclectic set that still manages to be almost aggravatingly hummable. — Eyl

Saul Williams, The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust (Self-released). Taking a cue from Radiohead, Saul Williams offered Niggy Tardust as a free download, or you could pony up $5 — a steal either way. Produced by Trent Reznor, Tardust's mix of industrial beats coupled with Williams's fiery brand of hip-hop results in a brilliant-sounding album. — Salazar-Moreno

The Winter Sounds, Porcelain Empire (Livewire Recordings). Making synthesizer-heavy swirly pop with breathy vocals and emotions held at a simmer, the Winter Sounds could be mistaken for an early-'90s British shoegaze outfit. In fact, this ensemble rides in on clouds and gossamer from Athens, Georgia, injecting its retro sound with that town's lengthy and estimable indie-rock heritage. — Eyl

Witchcraft, The Alchemist (Rise Above Records). Heavy music from Sweden is nothing new, but these Scandinavian sickos bring vintage amps, '70s psychedelia and Sabbath to their black celebration. Stellar songwriting and melodies make The Alchemist a standout among this year's metallic offerings. Before corporate radio neutered classic rock, it stung like this. Your dad will love it, too. — Eyl

Wu-Tang Clan, 8 Diagrams (Loud Records/Universal). Despite what Ghostface and Raekwon think about the new release, 8 Diagrams is miles ahead of Wu-Tang's last efforts, The W and Iron Flag. These are still some of the best MCs to ever touch the mike, and RZA remains an absolute genius on the beats. — Salazar-Moreno

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