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Kanye West called out George Bush, Mariah and Madonna came back from the dead, and every sixties band put out an album. But the micro-trends made music interesting this year: The Internet finally broke bands, Houston emerged as rap’s hottest city, folk flew its freak flag, and Britain gave us grime and cyber-girl pop.


Day-Glo colors and global beats: M.I.A.  

Best Album
M.I.A., ‘Arular’
This Sri Lankan–born, British-raised M.C. pushed the buttons that mattered in 2005, stealing from every hot street music in the world, making irresponsible use of terrorist imagery, and looking fine in camouflage pants. Drenched in Day-Glo colors, anchored by murderous sub-bass, Arular is trashy plastic fun.

2 Fiona Apple, ‘Extraordinary Machine’
That old-fashioned thing, an album of thematically coherent songs best played from start to finish. The theme is relationships, and Apple sorts through the debris of hers with uncommon wit and insight.

3 Sleater-Kinney, ‘The Woods’
The prototypical indie grrrls let loose with seriously hard rock that remembered Jimmy Page’s riffs were melodic, not just heavy. The needle’s in the red, the volume’s on eleven, the levee breaks.

Damian Marley took reggae back to the future.  

Best Single
Damian Marley, “Welcome to Jamrock”
He has Dad’s fire in his voice, but he steals as much from hip-hop M.C.’s, and his killer chorus had everyone singing “Murder!”

2 Amerie, “1 Thing”
Proof that even after 30 years, nothing moves a dance floor like an old Meters drumroll.

3 Franz Ferdinand, “Do You Want To”
How many hooks can you cram into one song? The Scots managed to one-up last year’s breakout hit “Take Me Out” by making every bit of this rubbery groove sound like a chorus.

Best Debut
Young Jeezy, ‘Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101’
The latest in a long line of hyperrealist hip-hop classics. Young Jeezy reveals many inventive metaphors for selling crack in a charmingly gravelly monotone. State-of-the-art beats split the difference between brutalist southern crunk and epic northern soul.

2 LCD Soundsystem, ‘LCD Soundsystem’
An album that wears its influences on its sleeve—a Fall tribute here, some acid house there, a little Eno to close it all out—yet transcends them by being genuinely funky. They’ve become a bona fide roof-raising live band, too.

3 Miranda Lambert, ‘Kerosene’
Who would have expected a runner-up on Nashville Star—C&W’s version of American Idol—to make country that rocks so hard?

Jon Brion cooks up another baroque arrangement.  

Best Producer
Jon Brion
The L.A. scenester was behind both the best unreleased album of the year (his warped cabaret version of Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine) and the big crossover hip-hop hit, Kanye West’s Late Registration. Brion’s brilliant string arrangements for tracks like “Gone” and “Hey Mama” elevated West’s soul samples to symphonic heights.

2 Xenomania
British girl groups like Sugababes, Rachel Stevens, and Girls Aloud have picked up the avant-garde-pop baton from American R&B, powered by this group of writers and producers. With an overload of hooks and enough background detail to keep geeks enthralled, Xenomania’s work is the pure, uncut Pop rush.

3 Luny Tunes
No one did more for reggaeton. On their Mas Flow 2 compilation, a roomful of lilting singers and rapid-fire M.C.’s fight for the mike while child’s-toy melodies ring over that quasi-martial beat.

Best Live Show
The Rapture, at Crash Mansion (October 6)
The most famous unfamous band in New York reclaimed the scene at this cramped show after a yearlong live hiatus. New songs displayed impressive commitment to form, and for those who would pigeonhole them, there was “House of Jealous Lovers”—limber, clamorous, glistening with the sweat of two years past.

2 TV On The Radio, at Union Pool (September 11)
At this Katrina benefit—cobbled together fast enough to shame FEMA—TVOTR debuted the agit-noise “Dry Drunk Emperor”: “Did you believe the lie they told you / That Christ would lead the way?”

3 The Killers, at Central Park Summerstage (June 4)
Duran Duran revivalists made the shift from backlash to post-backlash at this show. New label boss Jay-Z rode his bike there; culture-clash photos ended up on
—Jon Caramanica

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