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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's report now on some art that's already been created. We've spent this week of the new year listening to some of the best releases of 2008, and now NPR's Robin Hilton gives us his pick for the best unknown music of the past year.

ROBIN HILTON: I think that 2008 was a particularly strong year for great unknown artists. Of course, the larger, more established bands continued to get the most attention for their music, but it was really the smaller, lesser-known bands that made the most memorable music of the year.

(Soundbite of music)

HILTON: And out of all of the great unknown artists that I listened to this year there was one that clearly stood out against all the others. It's a band called Son Lux, that's S-O-N L-U-X.

Mr. RYAN LOTT: (Singing) Will you love me, like he loves me?

HILTON: It's essentially just one guy. His name is Ryan Lott, and he's from New York. And by day he writes music for dance companies and actually radio and television ads. And this year he put out an absolutely astonishing record called "At War with Walls & Mazes".

Mr. LOTT: (Singing) I will do all I can - you say you are.

HILTON: Ryan Lott says that he considers himself a hip-hop producer, and he pieced together this album, over the course of four years from 2004 to 2008, using little bits and pieces of recordings that he's gathered over the years. And he ended up with this record that just has this extraordinary range of energy and emotion. Each song seems to tell a story. There's this very definite narrative art, and they really take you on this journey. At one moment they may be very solitary and very quiet.

Mr. LOTT: (Singing) Put down all your weapons.

HILTON: And then without any warning at all, they'll just erupt into this grand epic and sweeping majestic music that just - it's really like getting kicked in the stomach, but I mean that in absolutely the best way possible. The thing that's really interesting about Son Lux is that it's an album that the artist made by himself in a home studio, but on the other hand it has this huge sound at times. And it's this sort of push and pull in the music of Son Lux that makes it stand out against all the other great unknown artists of 2008.

Mr. LOTT: (Singing) Where have all the wicked gone. Is there no one to condemn you? Where have all the holy gone? Is there no one left to break you down?

INSKEEP: To hear Robin Hilton's full list of the best unknown albums of the year and our critics choices for the best music of 2008 go to nprmusic.org. This is NPR News.

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