9. Various Artists, Body & SOUL, Vol. 3 (New Wave) I'm usually wary about picking DJ mixes for a list of the year's best albums, but this and the two preceding it simply pack more minutes of bliss than 99 percent of 2000's "original" full-lengths. Background on this one: DJs Joe Claussell, François Kervorkian and Danny Krivit hold a party every Sunday afternoon in Manhattan called Body & SOUL that pays tribute to the garage sound pioneered by legendary selector Larry Levan at the Paradise Garage (later bastardized in the U.K. as speed garage, see #4). Heavy on roof-raising diva vocals and rhythms that run closer to funk than those of traditional house, this is dance music for an older, dare I say, more sophisticated set than those who consume the popular trance mixes of Paul Oakenfold and company. On Vol. 3, the triumvirate reaches beyond the insular New York garage cabal to draw on the flavors of Detroit (DJ Rolando's "Knights of the Jaguar," easily one of the top three club hits of the year) and San Francisco ("Equatorial," by the hippy trippy Dubtribe). The perfect gift for that lifelong discophobe you know who claims "that stuff all sounds the same," "it doesn't take any talent," and the coup de grâce "it isn't really music."
10. Sade, Lovers Rock (Epic) A new Sade album should have broken my top five without reservation. But Lovers Rock just doesn't have a single as memorable as Diamond Life's "Smooth Operator" or Love Deluxe's "No Ordinary Love." And to these ears, the turn to more prominent acoustic guitar was a step in the wrong direction, pulling her unclassifiable aesthetic closer to soft rock than lilting soul. Still, Sade's eternally assuasive voice fills in where the songwriting lacks, and the unexpected dubby overtones liven up the occasionally flat production.
Best Reissue of the Year: Divine Styler, Wordpower 2: Directrix (Mo'Wax) This is actually not a re-ish in the traditional sense -- the album was released in almost the same format in 1998 on Divine's own label, and then released again with broader promotion on the British tastemaker imprint Mo'Wax. This is rap music at its most cubist, with beats that are sharp, multi-sided and almost brittle, and Orthodox Islamic messages buried under multiple layers of abstraction. Mystical, hyper-urban and ancient all at the same time, Directrix is hip-hop for advanced listeners only.
1. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (Bloodshot) When Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker was released in Britain this year, one U.K. profile declared the singer-songwriter the combination of "Gram Parsons' soul, Keith Richards' spirit, Steve Earle's growl and Paul Westerberg's heart." The solo debut from the former Whiskeytown front man -- once regarded as the enfant terrible of the No Depression set -- may not be worthy of such an impossibly high compliment, but it certainly comes close.
Infused with the sound of Greenwich Village folk, Bringing It All Back Home-era Dylan, a healthy dose of Exile on Main Street raggedness and aided by an impressive cast of support players (including Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Kim Richey and, most notably, Parsons' old partner Emmylou Harris), Adams and producer Ethan Johns tap into the dark zeitgeist of late-night yearnings, using the swirl of a Hammond organ, plaintive acoustic guitars and well-deep drums as their guides.
Like Whiskeytown's previous efforts (1995's Faithless Street, 1997's Strangers Almanac and the group's still-unreleased swan song Pneumonia), Heartbreaker draws its inspiration from a soured romance, and that verity colors every inch of the record's tear-stained terrain. From the sandpaper grit of the opener "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)," the wounded plea of "My Winding Wheel" to the minimalist backwoods blues of "Bartering Lines," Adams weaves together a collection of richly crafted narratives that sound as if they were written and recorded drunk and wounded in a dark room somewhere.
The album's centerpiece, "Come Pick Me Up" -- an unapologetic ode to self-destructiveness -- finds Adams pining for the wicked sting of a former lover ("I wish you would/Come pick me up/Take me out/Fuck me up/Steal my records/Screw all my friends, behind my back/The smile on your face/And then do it again"). This creeping sense of emotional fatalism reaches its apogee on "Call Me on Your Way Back Home" with its arrestingly honest imagery ("Oh, baby why did I treat you like I did?/Honey, I was just a kid/Bubblegum on my shoe/But you loved me/And I loved you/ . . . Now, I just want to die without you").