35. WilcoSky Blue Sky [Nonesuch]

When music critics scoff that Wilco are “dad-rock,” they're absolutely right. Sort of. My dad only listens to sports radio and Israeli gypsy pop, a genre that sounds like a hybrid between Gogol Bordello and a cat slaughterhouse. Wilco are actually my mom's favorite band. She's got every one of their albums stretching all the way back to Uncle Tupelo. (This was my work, after I grew tired of hearing her proselytize the gospels of Dwight Yoakam and George Strait)

Then the other day, apropos to nothing, she told me that she still liked Sky Blue Sky, but found it a lot more boring than the rest of the band's work. I couldn't exactly argue. Ever since he stopped popping pills like Fat Elvis on Spring Break and got rid of the migraines, Jeff Tweedy's been in a sort of amiable anomie, penning lyrics about folded jeans, mowing the lawn and learning to do laundry. It's a little dull. Hell, my cat is napping to Sky Blue Sky as we speak. But despite the occasional banality, Tweedy and the dream-team backing band that is Wilco, 2007, are just too talented not to be able to redeem the lyrical malaise. Yeah, it lacks the ambition of Wilco's earlier material, but Sky Blue Sky remains an impeccably recorded, well-crafted album from one of the finest working bands of its generation. And I'm sure when I'm 50, it'll be a great album to mow the lawn to.

34. The PonysTurn the Lights Out [Matador]

Even the positive notices for Turn the Lights Out seemed begrudging. Chalk it up to the potential The Ponys flashed on their 2004 debut, Laced With Romance, which skated in in just the nick in time to get lumped into the dying days of the “garage-rock movement.” But rather than please critics with a bunch of atonal guitar-freak outs that reflected their “inner rage,” against the “system,” the Ponys have kept it simple, still mining Television and Sonic Youth for inspiration, complete with heavy gnashing guitar riffs, a CBGB fast rhythm section and aloof punk-inflected vocals. On record, it might seem a little too polished and mannered for the experimentally inclined, but live their sludgy guitars and head-banger volume attack with such a flesh-melting intensity that you can't help but be floored. Plus, the album cover might be top 10 this year.

MP3: The Ponys “Double Vision”

33. The ShinsWincing the Night Away [Sub Pop]

If they haven't been completely ruined for you, I'd recommend going back to Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow. More than just a good way to spend an hour, it's also a reminder that The Shins top themselves on every record- except this time, you had to check Billboard to find any indication of that. Don’t hold it against The Shins because Wincing The Night Away found more people voicing their approval with wallets than keyboards; they were always too good to be anyone's secret, and they've continually painted within their boundaries while expanding them at the same time. As a result, their third record ended up being their least emotionally inscrutable and most musically rich, and there's no reason to think that it won't be true of Album Four. If you found most of the hate being tiresomely focused on Garden State's dewy-eyed leads, understand that it's only because the brainy and bouncy pop of “Australia,” “Phantom Limb” and the nine other songs here are impossible to dislike on merit alone. —Ian Cohen

MP3: The Shins-“Australia”

32. Daft PunkAlive 2007 [Virgin]


Recently, I spent an entire afternoon invested in the Untitled Daft Punk Project. What is the untitled Daft Punk project? Let me explain. When you enter my apartment, there is a long dark narrow hallway that leads into my living room. I took the sofa chair in the main room and set it up at the end of the hallway, facing the door. Then I played Alive 2007 on repeat. This required a lot of time and most importantly timing. I donned a pair of sunglasses, a suit and smoked approximately 17 cigarettes. A strobe light is necessary. I also waited three hours, with the endless repetition of Alive 2007.

On the third go-round, when “Technologic” ends, I heard a knock at the door. I commanded my unknowing guest: “Enter!” It was my exterminator, approximately five-five years old, but don't let that fool you, it's an amateur disguise. He has tremendous kung-fu skills. As the door opened, a robot voice sang “Te-le-vi-sion.” The devious exterminator said, “I'm here to spray your apartment. I put out my cigarette, staring straight at him. “Rules the na-tion.” When the “Around the World” came in, he began walking down the hallway.

The beat begins to drop. I get up off the sofa chair. We're face to face. Then the song picks up, the strobe light comes on by timer, and we battle. It's epic. I'm punching, he's blocking my chops. He tries to high kick me, but I block his kick and flip him. Then I upper cut and knock him out. The guitar plays over the beat. I light a cigarette and call my therapist. —Tal Rosenberg

31. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings100 Days, 100 Nights [Dap Tone]


The Grammy Awards Committee kind of reminds me of the 40-something Cougars you occasionally see propped up in the corner of some seedy Los Angeles nightclub. All restless eyes and push-up bras, too-short skirts and caked-on makeup; hopelessly behind the curve but desperately trying to stay relevant. This is my best explanation for Amy Winehouse getting six Grammy nominations, because after all, the kids love Amy Winehouse, she sings about missing Nas concerts and smoking weed and she allegedly smokes crack and god knows that kids love smoking crack. Right? Right.

Sharon Jones will receive 0 trophies come awards night. Granted, her album missed this year's nominee cut-off by three days, but let's get real, she wouldn't have stood a chance against Winehouse in the first place. Jones is a 50-something former prison guard, not an emaciated train wreck whose pathetic personal life has managed to somehow boost her stock, getting everyone from radio programmers to gossip blogs to the industry elite to fawn all over her massive voice and minimal brains. But while Winehouse's album can't but help but seem callow and juvenile in the context of her wretched travails, Jones, carries the scars of experience in each bellow of her bottomless voice. Behind her, the Dap-Kings, pipe pinpoint trumpet blasts, elegiac sax lines and meaty-fingered basslines to imbue 100 Days, 100 Nights with the feel of a long-lost great album recently excavated from a dusty Stax vault. Next year, when she's eligible, I'd hope that Sharon Jones receives the recognition she rightfully deserves. At the very least, we know that she won't come to the Grammy's dressed like this.

MP3: Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings-“100 Days, 100 Nights”

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