The Knife robbed the slightly superior Sissy — singer Johanne Williams and audio landscaper David Trusz — of some of the bouquets Sissy's female-fueled reinvention of trip-hop album All Under deserved. Why single "In the Dark" was not a huge crossover hit as well as a dancefloor smash was hard to explain, but All Under's remaining tracks of furious distortion ("Anyone But You" and "Can't Save You") were just as captivating.

And then there's London nightclub-derived label Fabric, which salvaged a pretty bad year for dance music almost by itself. Fabric's voluminous (several discs per month) numbered output, even given duds like the unlistenable Fabric 26 and Fabric 27 records, put forth a strong case that the Londoners are the collectivist label of record for every DJ and remix theorist on the planet. Fabric 29 featuring Tiefschwarz was a hardy techno discovery, and Fabric 24, though a part of today's often overzealous re-release movement, argued eloquently that the overlooked Rob da Bank deserves a place on jammy/groovy house playlists.

Finally, Christian IDM: Who'd have thought of it? Dark Globe had always evoked a Kayak-ish cult of mysticism around their majestic orchestrations, but with this year's Nostalgia for the Future they picked up the lushness and pace with a Lawlerish turn in tunes. And, quite surprisingly, gave some shouts out to the Lord.

So don't despair. The state of electronica always depends on perception. Any song by Kraak & Smaak, whose Boogie Angst was an inconsistent mix of funk hooks plus bass, is still better than anything Sheryl Crow or Evanescence could come up with. Hearing a track by DJ Shadow on your car satellite radio isn't going to make you pull over and puke the way one by the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus will.

And in one last hopeful hurrah for 2006, Tom Ellard, founder of the Severed Heads and perhaps as influential in the genre's genesis as Cabaret Voltaire and John Balance, recently reemerged with a body of new work. His soundtrack and animations grace the Australian Film Commission's The Illustrated Family Doctor and, slowly but surely, he is posting remixed and remastered Severed Heads classics to YouTube, along with some new compositions. So hang in there, smarty pantses. — Jean Carey

Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music: Ten Reasons to Tune In Country Radio in 2006

The Nashville way of making music is unlike any other, comparable only to the studio system of Hollywood's golden age — a closed system of songwriters, producers, record labels, and artists that creates most of the sounds you don't want to admit you listen to on the radio when no one else is in the car.

This system is designed to create consistently good, but not great, music. For the latter to occur, an unpredictable element must be introduced, a ghost in the machine that animates the gears and brings the whole contraption roaring to life with a cybernetic melding of skill and soul. These are the happy accidents responsible for most — but not all — of the albums to find a home on country radio in 2006.

(Disclaimer: The best mainstream country album of the year, the Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way, received little to no airplay on country radio, and is therefore ineligible for this list. How could something that idiotic happen, you ask? Um ... it's a long story.)

1. lan Jackson

Like Red on a Rose

(Arista Nashville)

Like R&B, commercial country is at its heart a producer's medium. For instance, if you're an Alan Jackson fan, you're also a fan of producer Keith Stegall, who's helmed nearly all of Jackson's umpteen hits. So when Jackson tapped Alison Krauss to produce his new album, listeners expected a sidetrack into bluegrass. Instead, we got this: a shimmering suite of mature, thoughtful country songs about the difficulty and rewards of reconciling the youthful ideal of romance with the reality of adulthood and family.

2. Keith Urban

Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing

(Capitol Nashville)

Sometimes, superlative music gets made in Nashville because the artist becomes so popular that he or she earns the right to assume full artistic control over his or her work. That's why Jackson was able to call on Krauss, and why Urban now gets to fully explore his previously hinted-at vision of a merging of mainstream country with the panoramic rock of Joshua Tree-era U2, stitching it all together with passion, melodic invention and furious (and fully rock 'n' roll) guitar work.

3. Vince Gill

These Days

(MCA Nashville)

OK, this one's almost a ringer — Gill hasn't seen the inside of Billboard's country Top 10 singles chart (except in his role as a prolific harmony singer) since 2000. But the recent "The Reason Why" lodged in the Top 40, and the four-disc set from which it springs is nothing less than country's own Sign o' the Times: an example of a scarily talented singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist with a playful wit, randy sense of humor, and flair for genre-hopping, finally allowed to demonstrate all the different things he can do in one glorious, extended tour de force.

4. George Strait

It Just Comes Natural

(MCA Nashville)

When a formula is as well-entrenched as Strait's, even a tiny digression can make a difference. It Just Comes Natural stands out from his dozens of other fine albums by dint of its length (15 songs, and not a clinker in the bunch) and by the fact that for the recording, Strait, band, and producer Tony Brown decamped to a tiny Florida studio owned by pal Jimmy Buffett. The result is a freshness that's occasionally been missing from Strait's work, wedded to the vocal mastery and canny song selection that hasn't.

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