1. The Strokes Is This It (RCA)
It's impossible to listen to this album without noting all the '70s punk/pop acts being ripped off left and right. It's also impossible to resist nodding your head and singing along. The Strokes may be derivative of the Velvet Underground, Television, David Bowie and many others but to borrow a phrase from Courtney Love, they fake it so real, they are beyond fake. Is This It is full of great guitar hooks, dry pop lyrics ("Alone we stand, together we fall apart /I think I'll be all right") and old-fashioned rock-'n'-roll attitude. Lead singer Julian Casablancas, 23, is in the middle of it all, radiating a stylish, premature weariness that no doubt makes his dad, Elite modeling kingpin John Casablancas, a proud papa. Who cares if the Strokes didn't invent their sound, as long as they perfected it?
2. Marc Anthony Libre (Sony Discos/Columbia)
Even when Marc Anthony sings English-language pop, his heart seems to pound with a Latin rhythm. Here he returns to Spanish-language salsa, the genre that made him a superstar. Anthony's sonic palette has broadened: these songs are adorned with musical touches from around the world, including tango-style accordions and Andean flutes.
3. System of a Down Toxicity (Columbia)
In a year filled with screaming nu-metal acts, this band screams loudest and most eloquently. Front man Serj Tankian has a soaring voice, but as he demonstrates on standouts Chop Suey! and Forest, he knows how to modulate, sounding like an angry cantor one moment and a choir boy the next. Guitarist Daron Malakian backs it all up with a fierce wall of fuzz.
4. Ryan Adams Gold (Lost Highway)
There's an aroma of the young, freewheeling Bob Dylan in the organ and acoustic-guitar textures beloved by this urban folk rocker. On his lyric sheet, word games take a backseat to riffs on love, youth and empty pockets. Boomers nostalgic for their hitchhiking days, as well as their children thumbing a ride to the city for the first time, will find something to get weepy over.
5. Olu Dara Neighborhoods (Atlantic)
The cornetist-guitarist-vocalist makes music that doesn't just grow on you; it grows around you, locking you in an inescapable embrace, like an oak tree that's knotted around a fence. Once his magical blend of jazz and blues gets hold of the listener, there's no escape and no wanting to leave. Dara, who has played sideman to jazz greats, has become a master.
6. Lucinda Williams Essence (Lost Highway)
Country's most lauded poet turns down the volume and comes up with a slow, soft album about dark places in the soul. In songs that range from meditations on obsessive relationships to backwoods-style religious devotions, she exposes emotions many listeners keep inside and spins them into music other songwriters wish they had in them. Absolutely essential.
7. Valery Gergiev/Kirov Orchestra The Rite of Spring (Philips)
Igor Stravinsky's clamorous ballet score has now received a quintessentially Russian recording: violent, brazen, full of all the blunt power of passionate peasant ritual. Gergiev has been making a big impression as principal guest conductor of New York City's Metropolitan Opera, and this CD leaves no doubt why.
8. Aterciopelados Gozo Poderoso (BMG/U.S. Latin)
Musical mavericks often reject the past; this Colombian electro-rock duo is dragging its traditions into the present, marinating its songs in South American rhythms, including cumbia (a hot, syncopated dance music) and vallenato (a sweet accordion-led genre). This is an album that edifies even as it enchants.
9. Dolly Parton Little Sparrow (Sugar Hill)
Although lumped with the bluegrass revival, Parton's album sports little of the preciousness associated with most nouveau blue. On traditional tunes and unconventional ones (Collective Soul's Shine, Cole Porter's I Get a Kick Out of You), Parton tests bluegrass's elasticity but gently. The whole album sounds fresh and playful.
10. Aaliyah Aaliyah (Blackground)
A siren of subtlety, never wailing when a whisper would do, she blended genres with alluring ease. For her, hip-hop/soul and muted alternative rock came together as easily as lovers interlocking fingers. A plane crash claimed Aaliyah's life in August, but on her last CD her soul is forever in flight.
worst music | Michael Jackson
It was supposed to be the new, relevant M.J., but Invincible arrived with the same shots at the paparazzi, cheesy rap cameos and creepy children's choirs in the background that marked his decline. Jackson did break some ground, shattering the record for artistic egomania by holding two tribute concerts to himself in September.