Top 20 Albums of the Year (1-5)

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Thousands of discs were released this year, but only 20 could make the final cut. With the most scientific of instruments (headphones, and sometimes CD players) we whittled down this year’s releases, and each Thursday for the three weeks we’ll deliver to you five of our faves. Let us know what we missed, and what you loved.

Dax Riggs, We Sing of Only Blood or Love (FAT POSSUM)

01_daxriggs.jpgThere’s only so many times you can listen to the umpteenth Eddie Vedder- or Chris Cornell-style crooner before vowing to shred your flannel. That, as it turns out, might be hasty: For every 3,000th 3 Doors Down, there’s at least one Dax Riggs, a manly man’s musician who’s got a throat as crusty and damaged as the BQE and miles of bad road behind him. (At one performance earlier this year in New York, Riggs, shirtless and sweating and wearing guy-liner, but not in the Ashlee-Simpson-is-my-lady way, limited his banter to the following: “Magic is real.” That night, it was true.) Composed of short, filthy little songs, his low-octave growl and piercing shrieks make for cathartic relief from the radio. Songs like “Demon Tied to a Chair in my Brain,” “Dog-Headed Whore” and the utterly brilliant “Didn’t Know Yet What I Would Know When I Was Bleedin’” — as fine a use for the future-perfect as any — evoke the presence of a real artist, someone who absolutely will not stop until he’s been exorcised completely. Fans of southern rock, take note. Please.

Ryan Adams, Easy Tiger, (LOST HIGHWAY)

02_ryanadams.jpgThere are a lot of reasons to dislike Ryan Adams. He’s the voice-mail-leaving, journalist-harassing, actress-dating enfant terrible of the alt-country world, a musician whose profound self-seriousness is rivaled only by his market-flooding output (three albums in 2006). But a funny thing happened with Easy Tiger: Adams got on the quality-control (and off the heroin and cocaine speedballs), took his own advice (referenced in his album title) and returned to his Heartbreaker roots, arguably what he does best. In abandoning his forays into AM radio with Gold and rock with Rock N Roll — hollow exercises — Adams has returned to emotionally wrought alt-rock, evidenced by the cracks in his voice and his display of his vulnerable upper registers. On “The Sun Also Sets” Adams wavers between moan and growl, a sob caught in his throat as he outlines how easily relationships fall into disrepair. The sunny “Two Hearts” belies the impending disappointment of a budding relationship, and Adams can’t resist a nod at irony when he summons a guitar solo by speaking its name on the inscrutable arena-rocker “Halloween Head.” Hell, we even forgive him the Sheryl Crow duet on “Two.” We’re just glad to have him back.

Abbey Lincoln, Abbey Sings Abbey (VERVE)

03_abbeylincoln.jpg The earthy jazz singer turned plenty of heads when she ditched her usual piano-bass-drums outfit and took up with Bob Dylan’s guitarist, Larry Campbell. But one person’s heresy is another’s revitalization, and the philosophical tunes that Lincoln’s known for not only fit right into the bluesy riffs and twangy peals, they resounded anew. Whether she’s singing about the way the world is falling down or questioning the wisdom of God’s judiciousness, she lets her 77-year-old rasp expose a song’s sentiment and sensuality. The way it slides between this melancholy program’s accordions and dobros is a joy.

White Stripes, Icky Thump (WARNER)

04_whitestripes.jpgWhen biography threatens to eclipse an artist’s work, the results are invariably poor. Between Jack White’s super-model marriage, Meg White’s incipient breakdown, major major-label expectations and the collective begging of indie U.S.A. desperate for something important, it’s little wonder that 2007 was the year that the White Stripes began to implode. That said, the candy-colored Detroit duo’s sixth studio album was a thoroughly engrossing affair, an ADD-suffering collection of songs that ran the gamut from the ridiculous (“Conquest”) to the sublime (“300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues”) to the classic (“You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)).” There’s no denying that the album’s overall vision feels muddy, but then, that doesn’t seem to be the point: Rather, Jack and Meg are trying their best to put a smile on your face, and at that, this entry into their catalog is entirely successful. Yes, the spoken-word bit in “Rag and Bone” becomes tiresome, and the bagpipes elsewhere are grating, but the exuberance with which the two approach their work is infectious, and the courageous way they build their material (and, in the case of Jack, their facial hair) is an inspiration. Anyone who claimed that Get Behind Me Satan would be remembered as their “weird” record ought to polish their crystal ball.

Bjork, Volta, (ATLANTIC)

05_bjork.jpgVolta isn’t Björk‘s most-forward thinking achievement, and that’s exactly why it’s such a breath of fresh air. The future, it would seem, has caught up with the reliably sci-fi Icelandic songstress, and so on Volta, she splashes in the streams of her memory. References dating back to her Sugarcubes day litter Volta‘s brass-and-beats framework, and, somewhat paradoxically, the result is Björk’s most cohesive album since her 1997 masterpiece, Homogenic. Volta reaches a gorgeous peak with “The Dull Flame of Desire,” a duet with Antony and the Johnsons‘ Antony Hegarty that smolders and finally ignites thanks to Brian Chippendale’s pummeling drums. Future, past, present? Who cares when you have music that’s this transcendent?

West & Winehouse: Grammy Nominees

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amy_winehouseThe 50th Grammy Award nominees were announced this morning in Los Angeles, with tabloid fodder Amy Winehouse and Kanye West snagging nominations in multiple categories — Winehouse received six, while West garnered eight. Below are a few of the folks who will be duking it out on February 10th for the golden gramophone in two of the biggest categories.

Nominees for Album Of The Year:

Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, Foo Fighters
These Days, Vince Gill
River: The Joni Letters, Herbie Hancock
Graduation, Kanye West
Back To Black, Amy Winehouse

Nominees for Record Of The Year:

“Irreplaceable,” Beyoncé
“The Pretender,” Foo Fighters
“Umbrella,” Rihanna Featuring Jay-Z
“What Goes Around…Comes Around,” Justin Timberlake
“Rehab,” Amy Winehouse

For the full list of this year’s nominees, go here.

John Mayer Hot for MILFS

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ricki-john-mayer.jpgJohn Mayer is on the road to making our dream couple come true, after allegedly macking on Ricki Lake at a party in NYC last night. Oh, how that poor chick from Friday Night Lights must be sobbing right now! Apparently they talked about Lake’s new passion project, The Business of Being Born, and John gushed, “I’ve had a crush on you for two years.” Make it happen John! Of course his crush just so happened to begin once Ricki got all skinny, but what do you expect from the dude who broke Jessica Simpson‘s heart? The couple reportedly exchanged numbers, and John stalked Ricki via text message for the rest of the night. We love that John Mayer prowls NYC for all the celebrity play he can get. He’s a cat who likes cougars. Go Ricki! Go Ricki! Go Ricki! [NYP]

Wentz Banned From Simpson Christmas

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wentz_simpsonLooks like there’ll be a little less eyeliner at the Simpson family Christmas this year — Star Magazine is reporting that Ashlee Simpson‘s father Joe, the king of inappropriate descriptions of his daughter’s bodies and a former Baptist minister, isn’t so into boy-kissing Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, so he’s banned Wentz from attending. Wentz’s alleged suicide attempt a few years back coupled with his recent statements to NPR wherein he wished he were gay couldn’t have gone over well with the daughter-pimping Simpson. Ashlee, though disappointed, “values her dad’s opinions and has agreed,” said a source. It’s so unfair. We bet Tony Romo‘s invited.

Awards Season Kick-Off: Coens Grateful, Deadly

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Well, it’s that time of the year again when we all take a little pause, breathe a little easier, say thanks for Scrooged, and begin to take stock of the previous 12 months. When it comes to motion pictures, that means that the National Board of Review has named its 2007 winners. Take it for it is (Oscars bellwether!), but the list doesn’t appear to be all that off-base, leastways not from our extensive research. Joel and Ethan Coen’s horribly bleak adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s horribly bleak No Country for Old Men was named best picture. Tim Burton nabbed best director for Sweeney Todd. George Clooney took home best actor for Michael Clayton. Julie Christie won best actress for Away from Her. What’s most amazing is that the bulk of those movies have actually seen a theatrical release. Nice job, National Board of Review! Way to stick with the proletariats! Speaking of film honors, VH1 will be broadcasting the 2007 Critics’ Choice Awards live on January 7th, 2008. Mark your calendars.

Wyclef Rocks Granny’s World

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Wyclef Jean rocked our studios the other night during his SoulStage performance, and he got a little help from one particular audience member. The former Fugees star was playing tracks from his Carnival (Memoirs of An Immigrant), as well as past hits, when he spotted a particularly energetic woman in the crowd. He pulled the AARP member onto the stage, told her to “get crunk” with it, and well…check out what happens next in this hilarious clip. Check out the rest of the show this evening on VH1 Soul at 9 pm.

Kiefer Sutherland’s Mug Shot Hotness

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kiefermug.jpgWe stopped watching 24 a few seasons ago – there’s really only so many times someone can get fired and rehired by CTU before it gets kind of boring. But if there was one reason we should set the TiVo for more drama, it’d be Kiefer’s serious hotness. His fine looks (which seriously have not changed since we were hot for him in the Lost Boys) have been overshadowed in recent months by his frat boy drunkenness and idiotic drunk driving, but there’s nothing like a nice mugshot to rekindle the fangirl flame inside! Keifer turned himself in yesterday to begin serving his 48 day sentence for drunk driving. He’ll spend Christmas, New Year’s, and his birthday behind bars, which seems a little masochistic to us. How very Jack Bauer of him. How sexy.

In case you need a reminder of why Kiefer’s locked up, here’s the star (he’s either inebriated or crazy in this clip) jumping onto a Christmas tree. Happy holidays! [People. The Smoking Gun]

Last Night’s Pics: GQ Honors Hollywood Hunks

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Movie premieres, awards shows, benefit concerts, and plain old clubbin’ – even though most of us are at home, the beautiful peeps are living it up somewhere. Last Night’s Pics puts you in touch with all the action.

Megan Fox, Chace Crawford, Hayden Panettiere, Elisha Cuthbert, Rumer Willis, Casey Affleck, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Judd Apatow, and Seth Rogen were among the celebs spotted arriving to the GQ Men of the Year Party.

photo_20×91.gif For more photos of the GQ bash, click here.

Thursday: Jay-Z’s a Birthday Boy

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jayz-1206.jpgVivica A. Fox: DUI Drama
Come on Vivica, we thought you were smarter than that! Happy booking. [Yahoo]

Jay-Z’s Birthday Bash with Beyonce
Awww. The pair celebrated Jay’s special day with a romantic dinner in Paris followed by a trip to a fancy strip club. [People]

Celebs Speak About Skinny Standards

Hotties like Petra Nemcova, Rosario Dawson and Anne Hathway got Jennifer Love Hewitt’s back. Girl power! [People]

More Babies for Brangelina
Orphans around the world are clamoring to be the it baby of the year. Good luck little ones! [Us]

Ryan Phillippe Back with Abbie
Reese’s ex has gone public with the woman who broke up their marriage – and she’s even getting cozy with their kids.
[DListed]