Go to the NEW FORUM
I have found two lists from them (so far). Obviously these won't be used by AM, but they may be of interest to people.
Jon Pareles' lists...
Top 10 Albums[/b]
1. FIONA APPLE: 'EXTRAORDINARY MACHINE' (Epic).
Take 2 of this long-awaited, prematurely leaked album is the keeper. On the finished album, a little bit of Jon Brion's surreal cabaret orchestration brackets the newer stripped-down, focused versions of the songs. Ms. Apple continues her obsessive self-examination and convoluted thoughts of betrayal and regret, but now adds something: enough distance for some wry perspective.
2. M.I.A.: 'ARULAR' (Interscope).
The means are modest: singsong choruses that could be playground chants, sparse tracks made with sounds from cheap synthesizers and drum machines. But the ambitions of M.I.A., a refugee from the civil war in Sri Lanka who went to art school in London, are huge and largely fulfilled on "Arular," her debut album. The raps glance at violence, displacement, lust and determination in tracks that are irresistibly, incessantly danceable.
3. SHAKIRA: 'FIJACIóN ORAL VOL. 1' (Epic).
This is pop 2005: catchy songs about love found and (even better) lost that casually toss together reggaetón, bossa nova, Colombian cumbia, chanson and half a dozen varieties of rock, for starters. It all suits a voice that can be insouciant, sultry or desperately impassioned, and a songwriter whose globe-hopping comes naturally.
4. SUFJAN STEVENS: 'ILLINOIS' (Asthmatic Kitty).
Songs about significant events and characters in Illinois - the second of the 50 states Mr. Stevens plans to write albums about - are at once grandly orchestrated, homespun and emotionally resonant. With his large supporting cast, Mr. Stevens finds ways to take history personally.
5. THE FRAMES: 'BURN THE MAPS' (Anti-).
If Radiohead had a love life but stayed just as bleak, it would sound like the Frames on this album of heartsick, craggy, majestic rock songs that never trade drama for melodrama.
6. BRIGHT EYES: 'DIGITAL ASH IN A DIGITAL URN' (Saddle Creek).
Conor Oberst, a k a Bright Eyes, released two albums simultaneously in 2005: the folk-rocking "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and the far more electronic "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn." Both are among the year's best albums. Yet where "Wide Awake" simply adds to Mr. Oberst's stockpile of brilliantly observed songs about personal matters like ambition and casual sex, "Digital Ash" uses its ricocheting, disembodied sounds to contemplate time, war, death and the meaning of life.
7. BETTYE LAVETTE: 'I'VE GOT MY OWN HELL TO RAISE' (Anti-).
It seems all too conceptual to have a 59-year-old soul-music trouper sing a collection of songs by women. But Ms. LaVette's flinty voice and lean, bluesy, cannily arranged band tear into every song, turning old wounds into tokens of survival.
8. STEPHEN MALKMUS: 'FACE THE TRUTH' (Matador).
Three albums after the breakup of Pavement, his definitive 1990's indie-rock band, Stephen Malkmus remains waywardly alternative. His lyrics fling aperçus at life, art and commerce, while his tunes melt down the old verse-chorus-verse, deploy banjos and wobbly synthesizers, amble off on jam-band tangents, plunge into garage-rock or do the acoustic tango. He's as smart as he is mercurial.
9. KONONO NO. 1: 'CONGOTRONICS' (Crammed Discs).
Take traditional, polyrhythmic thumb-piano trance music from Congo, plinking away in dizzying syncopated patterns. To crank it up for big outdoor parties, run it through buzzy pickups and amplifiers made from, among other things, scavenged car parts. The result is electric Minimalism that's exuberant and relentless, changing from percolating to hypnotic to a tingle that reaches deep into the nervous system.
10. SLEATER-KINNEY: 'THE WOODS' (Sub Pop).
Distortion is everywhere on "The Woods," Sleater-Kinney's seventh album, and it brings a nervy intensity to songs already worked up. With just two guitars, drums and Corin Tucker's banshee wail, Sleater-Kinney can sound as immense as a metal band and as bristling and unkempt as their indie-rock beginnings. Singing about love and war, truth and spectacle, the trio still plays as if everything were at stake.
Bruce Springsteen: "Devils & Dust"
Amerie: "1 Thing"
Irma Thomas: "Back Water Blues"
Miranda Lambert: "Kerosene"
Kanye West: "Gold Digger"
Kelefa Sanneh's lists...
1. YOUNG JEEZY: 'LET'S GET IT: THUG MOTIVATION 101' (Corporate Thugz Entertainment/Island Def Jam).
On his mesmerizing major-label debut, this Atlanta rapper reels off slow-motion rhymes; he pauses whenever he feels like it for one of his famous interjections, often a low, guttural, "Yeeeeah." Despite the shameless jokes ("I'm emotional, I hug the block") and dopeman boasts hidden in plain sight, this is sly, insinuative music. Young Jeezy's sluggish rasp evokes both a ruthlessness no one can touch and a weariness no one can cure.
2. THE HOLD STEADY: 'SEPARATION SUNDAY' (French Kiss).
It doesn't sound promising: a beefed-up bar band led by a singer who'd rather tell stories. And yet "Separation Sunday" is a triumph, propelled by meaty guitar riffs and an even meatier story line. Craig Finn speaks and shouts the lyrics, which pay loving tribute to lives twisted or redeemed (or both) by punk rock and Catholicism: "He said, 'I've got to the part about the Exodus/ And up to then I only knew it was a movement of the people/ But if small-town cops are like swarms of flies/ And blackened foil is like boils and hail/ I'm pretty sure I've been through this before.' "
3. MARIAH CAREY: 'THE EMANCIPATION OF MIMI' (Island Def Jam).
In which our heroine discovers the small difference between a flop and blockbuster. With slightly better songwriting and better-chosen beats, Ms. Carey created one of the year's most irresistible albums, reminding everyone how versatile she can be. Whether she's fluttering around the rhythm or doing her breathy belting, "Mimi" is gloriously overstuffed with hits, could-be-hits and might-yet-become-hits.
4. ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: 'FEELS' (Fat Cat).
Is this their idea of make-out music? On "Feels," the playful, inventive members of Animal Collective make some of their lushest, most decipherable music so far. The album revolves around an astonishing eight-minute composition called "Banshee Beat," which starts out serene, slowly builds into a shivery indie-rock song and then, just as mysteriously, retreats, as the flickering rhythm fades.
5. THREE 6 MAFIA: 'MOST KNOWN UNKNOWN' (Sony Urban).
One of the year's most fearsome hip-hop albums is also one of the most sensual. DJ Paul and Juicy J, the producer-rappers who lead this veteran crew, love sound for sound's sake; the tracks are full of warped human voices, eerie minor-key synthesizers, woozy snippets of old soul songs, even (on one track) an ersatz harpsichord.
6. FEIST, 'LET IT DIE' (Cherry Tree/Interscope).
This Canadian singer and songwriter can do whatever she wants; on this short, impossibly elegant album, that's what she does. She spends the first half of "Let It Die" singing her own sublime songs, and the second half singing other people's; turns out her Bee Gees is as strong as her Blossom Dearie.
7. MY MORNING JACKET, 'Z' (ATO/RCA).
Finally, this Kentucky group creates the sprawling, digressive, rhythmically skewed, occasionally jam-band-ish, briefly reggae-fied, weirdly serene neo-Southern rock experiment fans didn't know they'd been waiting for.
8. KEYSHIA COLE, 'THE WAY IT IS' (A&M).
Tougher than your average rapper and more heartsick than your average emo band, Ms. Cole is a great R&B singer who knows that lovers usually wind up being fighters, too. She doesn't always win, but she loses fiercely, whether replying to a Jay-Z track (in "You've Changed") or feeling sorry she's got nothing to feel sorry about ("I Should Have Cheated").
9. LIL WAYNE, 'THA CARTER II' (Cash Money/Universal).
This young New Orleans rapper has been a star for about a decade. His fifth album is an impressive grab bag, and in his odd, croaky voice he boasts about a city other people would rather mourn: "The heart of New Orleans, thumping and beating/ Living and breathing, stealing and feeding/ Peeling and leaving, killing and grieving."
10. LEE ANN WOMACK, 'THERE'S MORE WHERE THAT CAME FROM' (MCA Nashville).
An old-fashioned album full of weepers, from a country-pop singer who's clever enough to underplay her strong hand. She doesn't need to wail: there's barely a song here that wouldn't - or doesn't - sound great coming out of a car radio or a jukebox.
Mariah Carey featuring Jadakiss and Styles P, "We Belong Together (Desert Storm Remix)" (Island Def Jam)
Damian Marley, "Welcome to Jamrock" (Tuff Gong/Universal)
Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone" (RCA/Sony BMG)
Ying Yang Twins, "Wait (The Whisper Song)" (TVT)
Gary Allan, "Best I Ever Had" (MCA Nashville)