By Roy Kasten
By Kris Wernowsky
By Chaz Kangas
By Joseph Hess
By Julie Seabaugh
By Mike Appelstein
By Rachel Brodsky
By Kelsey McClure
Favorite Album: Pat Metheny Group, The Way Up (Nonesuch). With electronically processed guitar and banks of keyboards, the Pat Metheny Group has always strived for orchestral weight. On Up, they've finally applied their signature sound to a truly symphonic-sized canvas.
Most Overlooked: Neal Caine, Backstabber's Ball (Smalls Records). A highly polished debut from the bassist and St. Louis native, Backstabber evokes historical precedents without imitating them by featuring acoustic bass, drums and two wind players. Dean C. Minderman
Favorite Album:Wolf Parade, Apologies to the Queen Mary(Sub Pop). Wolf Parade's lyrics are late-night prophesies scrawled on damp bar napkins. But as guitars swirl, hands clap and bells ring out, its dueling vocalists sing like perfect-pitched carnival barkers, out to sell everything strange and beautiful in the world.
Most Overlooked:The National, Alligator(Beggars Banquet). The National are lost. Lovers are leaving, becoming strangers. Everybody's getting old fast. And out of this emptiness comes an orchestral indie masterpiece, a nightmare-scape populated by abductees and astronauts. Brooke Foster
Favorite Album: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, s/t (self-released). While it's tempting to declare the reissue of the Arcade Fire's 2003 EP best album of the year, a better choice is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's self-released debut, which caused a well-deserved, word-of-mouth wildfire.
Most Overlooked: Andrew Bird, The Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe). A little Bing Crosby, a little Jeff Buckley and a little Fiddler on the Roof, Eggs finds the singer-songwriter melding introspective songcraft and white-light rock with gypsy fervor. Rich Sharp