While the hype hustlers flit from Montreal to Toronto to Portland, the best music coming out of this city isn't the stuff that garners breathless headlines, and Scandinavia continues cranking out enough power rock to warm even the darkest northern clime.
1 NEIL YOUNG Prairie Wind (Reprise) Neil Young dodged his own death and dealt with his father's passing, but his best album in years isn't maudlin. It's an exuberant and expansive celebration of life, the long-awaited spawn of his monumental Harvest LP.
2 BETTYE LaVETTE I've Got My Own Hell To Raise (Anti-/Epitaph) LaVette unleashes her super soul chops on songs by Joan Armatrading, Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams and Sinéad O'Connor, turning them into smouldering, sexy tracks with more groove than their writers ever dreamed of. This should be neglected veteran LaVette's overdue breakout release. A must-have.
3 THE HELLACOPTERS Rock & Roll Is Dead (Psych Out/Universal International) Scandinavia's long dark nights are fuelling some of the world's best rock, and Sweden's Hellacopters lead a reverb-rich attack beside groups like the Soundtrack of Our Lives, Turbonegro and Backyard Babies. You'll get all the hooks, slashing guitar solos and urgency your hard-rocking heart could desire.
4 BLACKALICIOUS The Craft (Anti-/Epitaph) Big juicy beats bind the sumptuous sounds from Sacramento rhyme masters Blackalicious. A positive vibe powers the mostly upbeat edge of dynamic duo Gift of Gab and Chief Xcel .
5 BLUE RODEO Are You Ready (Warner) Greg Keelor gives his father a rousing rock sendoff while Jim Cuddy offers some of his best ballads yet. The one-time Queen Street Kids stay at the top of their alt-country game with a mostly stripped-down sound that's not afraid to rock.
6 SARAH HARMER I'm A Mountain (Cold Snap/Universal) Kingston cowgirl Harmer makes an end run away from her pop success with a bluegrass-soaked goodie that still flies on radio-friendly formats. Raw and accessible, this satisfying set even has a first-rate protest song, cool covers and new takes on some Harmer/Weeping Tile classics.
7 K'NAAN The Dusty Foot Philosopher (Sony BMG) A big hit at this year's NXNE, Somalia-born, Toronto-based hiphop hotshot could break bigger than any of the T-dot talent ready to make it. More musical than most, K'Naan, when he sings of mean streets, means the unpaved thoroughfares of the "most dangerous city in this universe," Mogadishu. With lots of heart from a hard road, this rocks and resonates, patching African beats and cutting rhymes.
8 CALEXICO/IRON & WINE In the Reins (Overcoat) Gene Autry was supposed to have performed horse operas. He's long gone, but this vibey collaboration fills the gap nicely with trippy, dusty, windblown songs powered by Calexico's desert sound and soothed by the gentle vocals of Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine).
9 M.I.A. Arular (XL) Mathangi Arulpragasam , aka M.I.A., took Toronto by storm when she brought her dance-hall-busting bangra beats to the Drake this summer. London-born but Sri Lanka-bred, M.I.A.'s East Asian-drenched dance tracks aren't afraid to address the troubles that drove her father to leadership in the Tamil independence movement.
10 TURBONEGRO Party Animals (Burning Heart) Viking venom from Norway's self-declared death punks who put the ire in irony by blending arena-rock sweep with punk provocation. More hooky than they may have intended, this is nasty and angry stuff with plenty of rock rewards for all who dare to go there.