Ion Dissonance, Breathing Is Irrelevant (Willowtip) -- Newcomers burst out of the gates with a unique, groove-laden robotic grind.
Pelican, Australasia (Hydrahead) -- Rumbles ominously like the shifting of the Earth's plates, with a serene beauty amongst the overtones.
Nasum, Helvete (Relapse) -- Classy, succinct and punishing, Helvete cuts the fat and slickly perfects third-generation grind-core.
Gregory Nicoll's Top 3 CDS
The Anacondas, The Anacondas (Sonic Rendez Vous) -- "Absinth" joins "Tequila" as a great liquor-themed dancefloor-packin' rock tune.
Various Artists, Guitar Ace -- Link Wray Tribute (MuSick) -- A long-overdue salute to the Father of the Power Chord.
The Queers, Acid Beaters (Stardumb) -- An explosion of sweet, chewy bubblegum-flavored punk/pop/rock.
Ronda Penrice's Top 3 CDS
R. Kelly, Chocolate Factory (Jive) -- Soulful, emotionally drenched, sexy and raw, R. Kelly proves he rules contemporary R&B.
OutKast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista) -- Big Boi and Dre are best together. But of the two discs, The Love Below is the most innovative.
Luther Vandross Live Radio City Music Hall 2003 (J) -- Recorded months before Vandross' illness, Luther's voice is at its best.
Al Kaufman's Top 3 cds
Lucinda Williams, World Without Tears (Lost Highway) -- Simply the greatest American songwriter living today.
Erin McKeown, Grand (Nettwerk) -- Beautifully brings '50s Hollywood into the 21st century.
Starlight Mints, Built on Squares (PIAS) -- If Tom Waits had a kid who listened to a lot of XTC.
Bryan Powell's Top 2 cds
Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Unclassified (Warner Bros.) -- Imagine Jimi Hendrix playing steel guitar, with a dose of Sly Stone funk.
Led Zeppelin, How the West Was Won (Atlantic) -- Three worthy and long-overdue discs of live Zep, from 1972 shows in California.
Mark Gresham's Top 3 cds
Dale Warland Singers, Argento: Walden Pond (Gothic) -- A tribute to the Warland Singer's reputation and the dean of Minnesota composers, Dominick Argento.
Oregon Symphony, Svoboda: Orchestral Works (Albany) -- Includes Toms Svoboda's "Overture of the Season" and "Symphony No. 1."
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Rorem: Three Symphonies (Naxos) -- This budget label recording is a Grammy nominee for Best Classical Album.
Hal Horowitz's Top 3 cds
The Jayhawks, Rainy Day Music (American) -- Shimmering Americana melodies and sparkling Byrds-like harmonies.
Paul Westerberg, Come Feel Me Tremble (Vagrant) -- This boozy, joyfully sloppy album is a ragged return to form.
Warren Zevon, The Wind (Artemis) -- Zevon's most personal, passionate and intense ruminations on life, love and mortality.
James Kelly's Top 3 cds
VA, Livin', Lovin', Losin': Songs of the Louvin Brothers (Universal). -- Perfect collection of duets honoring country's best brother act.
Marty Stuart, Country Music (Columbia) -- Blends classic and contemporary songs, with the best pedal steel playing heard in years.
Michael Franti & Spearhead, Everyone Deserves Music (BooBoo Wax Music). Great melodies, thoughtful words and a fine funky groove.
Justin Robertson's Top 3 cds
Outkast, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista) -- Hip-hop's Sandinista -- over-reaching, devilishly uneven and defiantly ambitious.
Drive-By Truckers, Decoration Day (East/West) -- The most vivid and intense human-interest songs this side of Nebraska-era Springsteen.
Yo La Tengo, Summer Sun/Today Is the Day EP (Matador) -- Two more crown jewels in an impressive indie-rock back catalog.
Kevin Forest Moreau's Top 3 cds
The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site (Epitaph) -- Literate, metaphorical, insistently melodic indie pop.
Matthew Ryan, Regret Over the Wires (Hybrid) -- Overlooked singer/songwriter crafts stirring updates of lost-love lament and protest songs.
Al Green, I Can't Stop (Blue Note) -- Pleading R&B crooners take note: Why beg for lovin' when you've got charisma like this?
Lee Smith's Top 3 cds
Swimming Pool Q's, Royal Academy of Reality (Bar None) -- A masterpiece of pop, rock and space travel; the pinnacle of a stellar career.
Tywanna Jo Baskette, Fancy Blue (Terminus) -- Wonderfully offbeat singer/songwriter crafts beautifully innocent, raw and weird tunes.
The Bangles, Doll Revolution (Koch) -- First album since '88 for the pop quartet features crafty songs and refreshingly unforced performances.
David Peisner's Top 3 cds
1. Joe Henry, Tiny Voices (Anti-/Epitaph) -- Joe Henry makes the smoky, bruised, literate record he's been working toward for some time now.
2. The Libertines, Up the Bracket (Rough Trade) -- Snotty, stupid and not the Strokes, this is a truly vibrant jolt of 11th-generation punk-pop.
3. My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves (ATO) -- A spacey distillation of well- chosen classic rock influences ought not to sound so damn amazing.