By GRAHAM REID and RUSSELL BAILLIE
Another year gone and the best album was ... your favourite probably, whether that be pop-rock, r'n'b, jazz-funk or that thing which doesn't quite fit into any category but reflects your equally odd lifestyle.
Of the dozens, nay hundreds, of albums that we here at TimeOut enjoyed - or endured - during the past year these are the ones we think worth attention.
We believe they are the standouts of the year because they captured something special on a shiny piece of metal and that they were complete album entities, not just a couple of hit singles and some other messing about.
Which will explain some omissions from the countdown, but some of those artists get honoured in our best singles list. There are no reissues here, no compilations and, we believe, no rubbish either.
They are diverse - we dare you to do the six degrees of separation between Outkast and the album by guitarists Bob Brozman and Debashish Bhattacharya - but each in its own way was something we applauded on release and are equally enthusiastic about now.
Some of them we first heard all the way back in January. And a year is a long time in rock'n'roll.
So be amused, enlightened, irritated or outraged - that's fine by us.
But we know what we've got here in our top 30 will be lurking around our stereos for some time to come.
This was easy. The White Stripes' monster mash of blues (from Howling Wolf or as filtered through Led Zeppelin) hitched to architecturally sound pop structures and delivered by Jack White in an agonised howl was always going to tower above all contenders. Like few others in their field, they deliver with scorched-earth intent but also know when to drop back for a refined ballad. For this, their fourth album, they avoided changing their winning formula of guitar and drums despite having loads of cash and went to tiny Toerag studios in London to keep the sound elementally simple and rough-edged but without sacrificing anything when you pump up the volume. And this sounds as good at full volume as it does . . . Well, why would you listen to it any other way? The identikit duo of Jack and Meg, who have given neon tans and chain-smoking a good name again, also have an aura of mystique (Did they? Are they? Is the final track a clue or in-joke?) and, despite Jack beating the Von Bondies singer to a pulp in a Detroit bar a fortnight ago, he manages to effect the stature of a non-cussin', scrupulously polite southern gentleman. But what he brings to his music is pure, unfiltered passion which appeals to lovers of Iggy Pop as much as hairy British blues bands of the 70s. And it never hurts to throw in a Burt Bacharach cover just to keep everyone on their toes. The essential album of this year.
Blur's time seemed to have come and gone - the Britpop era has long passed, guitarist Graham Coxon departed the quartet during the recording of this, their seventh album, and frontman Damon Albarn is having more success these days with Gorillaz. However, all that just made this even more of a brilliant surprise. It's a sideways step of an album, where their songcraft collided with world music, strange instruments, fascinating rhythms and producer Norman Cook's box of tricks. A successful experiment in musical reinvention.
Quiet is the new loud? This moody, brooding and quietly majestic affair is shot through with Anglo-angst and melancholy but delivers it in a series of lovely songs which waft gently over the ears and into the subconscious. Atmospheric psychedelia.
Neo-psychedelic rock was everywhere this year and these sun-baked Californians sure knew how to brew up charming lo-fi electronics, languid country rock and imaginative pop-rock of literate and askew lyrics. Witty, brainy, and beguiling, Sumday showed Grandaddy are getting better with age.
Alt.country singer and sensual songwriter Williams pops up in our list every time she releases an album. Few have that much consistency but here again she addresses a mature audience while extending her range into emotionally disarming rapping while deepening and darkening her blues component, kicking in some Stones riffing and digging deep into pain and redemption.
And we thought it couldn't be done twice - but with the same formula (and low yet accurate production values) these Noo Yawkers kept faithful to their ethos of Television/Velvet Underground but kicked things up a notch with taut tunes, anxious vocals and more ambitious songs. Even shorter in its vinyl era-running time than their predecessor, it was further proof if it ain't broke ...
Let's check. Yes, he's the only wheelchair-bound, grey-bearded 58-year-old Marxist in our list. That's because Cuckooland finds the eccentric and uncategorisable Wyatt at the top of his game on jazz-textured and sometimes slightly dreamy tunes which allow his helium-filled voice to float evocatively. Intelligent, emotional, beautifully unsettling and thoroughly original.
While hip-hop was the dominant force in New Zealand pop, they were were still plenty of guys with guitars having a go - and this debut album by the Auckland trio exuded confidence, brash pop-rock energy, goofy hooks, great tunes and acerbic lyrical humour on just about all of its 14 songs. At release time we called it "the New Zealand feel-good album of the year" and that description still holds.
It was his year: the 18-year-old East Londoner won the Mercury Prize and got stabbed. Twice times cred right there, but the real oil is this debut chock full of tenement block rhymes and streetwise sentiment riding cheap rhythms and minimal but effective samples. A precocious talent with words his real name is ... Dylan. We ain't 'eard da last, awright?
These guys out of Hamilton not only recaptured the classic sound of early 70s reggae, and specifically Bob Marley, but delivered it with persuasive passion on a collection of songs which were instantly familiar but bore their own fingerprint. That rarity in Kiwi reggae, an album with no filler.
And as if to prove the new psychedelic movement isn't all just quirky lo-fi (see Elbow and Grandaddy above) here come the guitar solos which go into next week as this outfit from Texas arc-weld punk to prog-rock and create something brilliant, ridiculous and thoroughly enjoyable.
London dance duo sends out invites to punk godmother Siouxsie Sioux, funk mistress Me'shell Ndegeocello, tenement block hip-hopper Dizzee Rascal (see above) and others who turn this into a joyously inventive outing which distills Prince, Bollywood, breakbeats and madcap dance-pop. The sound of summer.
In real life he almost got the title in the wrong order, but on this impressive debut (assisted by Dr Dre and Eminem) his lazy-sounding but confident delivery is married to memorably catchy material and even if the sentiments sometimes work the same old hip-hop cliches he does it with infectious energy.
Wellington has been pumping out roots, reggae and dub-dance but this free-wheeling acoustic guitar-powered psychedelic pop full of lyrical strangeness and a slightly unhinged atmosphere was a surprise ace.
A game of two halves over a double disc from this hip-hop duo who on one disc deliver the funniest and least hip-hop album by hip-hoppers and on the other go madly funky while bringing in electro-clatter and Bowie/Prince funk. From bebop to P-funk it's all here - and that Hey Ya! single.
This New Yorker - whose first name is Stephanie - wasn't the only young soulstress whose voice recalls the music's golden era. But with her pipes powering songs of substance and heartbreak over the scratchy, crackling, inside-out grooves echoing her backers' Portishead's connections, it made for one of the pop-vocal debut albums of the year.
Another definite article retro-outfit from Detroit (see our top spot)? But here the garage is rocking to backbeat power-pop, late 60s jangle-rock and stomping blues rock. Their record collection might end in late '68 but they sure know who to reference while making a thoroughly life-affirming (and life-threatening) rock'n'roll racket.
The best local dance/electronica effort came from the experienced Auckland drum'n'bass duo - whose vocal guests including Scribe and Salmonella Dub's Tiki Taane - on a great leap forward of an album. One which sounded like they'd let some light and breathing space into a sound that on the past releases was all industrial throb and brute force. On this, with songs like Morning Light, it felt like there was a human touch behind every hard-punching moment. Just like good rock'n'roll really.
Okay, she comes from Mali, sings in her own tongue and has elevated and expanded a regional style called wassoulou, which hardly sounds a recipe for easy acceptance. But here the funk bubbles and the exotic melodies soar, and this double disc is part-compilation and part-new album so it's probably the only Sangare album you need. But you do need it.
They might look like Stillwater - the band in Almost Famous - but these 70s beardo and hairy chaps come from Southern preacher stock and bring together influences from the Allman Brothers, Stones and even New York's ragged Strokes on an album where sex, death and the good Lord battle it out over rock'n'roll guitars. Rock is the winner on the day. They might not be the future of rock and roll but they're one hell of a past.
Former Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan's new band didn't last long but here, reunited with drummer Jimmy Chamberlain - and two other guitarists to spar off - he indulges himself in a winning collection of art-rock, epic and ambitious pop, some glam rock and even a touch of Ziggy rock.
One of only two instrumental albums in our list (see number 29), this brings these two guitarists together on Cuban music which is grounded in an imaginary world of rum-warmed doo-wop, Ellington big band, Duane Eddy and odd surf music which shimmers like the fin of a classic Cadillac under a Havana moon. Music for the endless summer.
While his former Velvet Underground colleague Lou Reed released the Poe-faced, most pretentious album of his career in The Raven, Cale went his dogged and dark way with grim determination on songs full of grit, guts and anarchic visions. Gripping.
At the time, we gave this five stars conceding an extra star may have been because it was the recently deceased Joe's posthumous album, but it has held its place for its passionate mix of folk, ballads, rock, reggae (Marley's Redemption Song given a moving treatment), skanking and even Clash-styled combat rock. Joe loved all kinds of music as his Clash-career proved, and this album powerfully reinforces.
King Kapisi's second album was the year's best hip-hop long-player and a step-up from his debut, a tougher-sounding collection which gave itself room to indulge in pop, reggae and jazzy whims.
In grave danger of becoming overexposed without the sales to show for it, the loudmouth American singer-songwriter had his early recordings for his follow-up to Gold rejected (some of which are now emerging on afterthought EPs). But this second try was a spirited affair on which he embraced his Anglo-rock influences on an album which references U2, the Smiths and Oasis while also nodding to the Strokes and Nirvana. With careless wit and obvious enjoyment, Adams delivers a one-man desert island disc which incidentally proves his excellent taste.
It came in the closing overs of a very good year but this amalgam of soundtrack ambience-meets-mariachi indie rock from Tucson was a quiet gem which effortlessly commands stereo time, and sounds tailored for the warm summer days to come.
Hardly a household name, our second wheelchair bound singer-songwriter after Robert Wyatt offers another distinctive slice of his downbeat Americana coloured by Wurlitzer, pedal steel and nylon string guitars on songs which are amusing musings, Dylanesque or rocking, or open heart surgery in the ballads. His skewed view always drags you in.
Guitarist and raconteur Brozman was the unexpected star of New Plymouth's Womad when he played with Okinawan folk musician Takashi Hirayasu. With Indian slide player Bhattacharya he explores dialogues which refer to Africa, Spain, simple pop and something which sounds like an arranged marriage between Waikiki and Varanasi. World music seldom sounds so ... worldly.
Crude'n'rude caterwauling vocals by Karen O atop wiry punk-blues and rockabilly wig-outs gave these New Yorkers (with a Brit-punk fascination) an edginess as they came on like the sound of an anxiety attack. Irresistible.