Globe writers sound off
Listen as each of the reviewers talk about one album that stood out.
1. Beck, "Guero" Interscope. Done with the broken-hearted blues of "Sea Change," Beck returns with this eclectic and breezy album that showcases the singer-songwriter's smooth transition from sample-happy savant to maturity.
2. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, "Howl" RCA. A potent cocktail of blues, country and gospel, this album, reminiscent of the Band, erases every Jesus & Mary Chain cliche that once applied to this California trio.
3. Danger Doom "The Mouse and the Mask" Epitaph. An inspired collaboration -- DJ Danger Mouse and underground hip-hop iconoclast MF Doom -- coupled with influences from the Cartoon Network's daring and innovative "Adult Swim." And it might be the first time "Courageous Cat & Minute Mouse" is name-checked in a hip-hop song. (And if you recognize this show, you're either very cool or very old.)
4. Gabin, "Mr. Freedom" Astralwerks. Is this jazz? Soul? Electronica? Why waste time with labels when this Italian duo -- named for French actor Jean Gabin -- have crafted this genre-jumping gem?
5. Anthony Hamilton, "Soulife" Atlantic/Rhino. Recorded before Hamilton's 2003 debut, this is a far superior disc, dripping with the soul and passion of Hamilton's bittersweet voice. "Georgie Parker" is a modern soul classic.
6. Leela James, "A Change is Gonna Come" Warner Bros.. You had better come correct if you're gonna cover a Sam Cooke classic (the title song. James does so with a big, old-school voice and mission to put the soul back into soul music.
7. Bettye LaVette, "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise" Anti. Filled with raw emotion and take-no-mess defiance, LaVette is a soul survivor who, at an age (59 when many singers are lucky to make on living on the oldies circuit, released the album of her career.
8. The Perceptionists, "Black Dialogue" Definitive Jux. Forget the alternative or boho labels. This is hip-hop that isn't afraid to be intellectually stimulating and a whole lot of fun. Even just the biting "Career Finders," which sends up the pretensions of gangsta posers, is worth the price.
9. System of A Down, "Hypnotize" Columbia. The thrilling conclusion of a two-disc epic, this innovative, intelligent album rocks so hard it could snap your spine, and you wouldn't even mind.
10. Kanye West, "Late Registration" Def Jam. Provocative and witty, the Chicago rapper smashes any notions of a sophomore jinx. As much as West likes to trumpet his own brilliance, he proves again that it ain't boasting if it's true.