• Air, 'Le Voyage Dans La Lune' (Virgin)

    In the beginning, cinema documented reality, or something like it. As a Parisian theater owner and performing magician, Georges Méliès was naturally more concerned with illusion — he wasn't the first to use special effects, but he soon became so good at his tricks that he is, arguably, film's first experimental artist for the masses. He was to cinema what Les Paul was to the recording studio a half-century later: the guy who took a new form and through multiple exposures, editing, and other technological slight-of-hand created something more vivid and artful than naturalism.

  • Anthony Hamilton, 'Back to Love' (RCA)

    The heyday of soul sincerity minus the corn is long over, but Anthony Hamilton nevertheless generates disarming warmth while straddling the thin line between traditionalism and timelessness. This churchy-not-preachy Charlotte, North Carolina-raised, Harlem-based crooner is a master at grown-man's R&B because his humility runs as deep as his dignity. Like thehit "So in Love," a duet with Jill Scott, Hamilton's fifth and most finessed album brings uplifting vibes to quotidian dramas: He lets his fidelity slip on the Babyface-assisted "Pray for Me," then promises to be "so good even Oprah would be jealous of you." Mixing stately story ballads with Cee-Lo-esque uptempo jams, Back to Love presents songwriting substance as style, and although that might not be flashy, it's mighty refreshing.

  • Summer Camp, 'Welcome to Condale' (Apricot/Moshi Moshi)

    Summer Camp, 'Welcome to Condale' (Apricot/Moshi Moshi)

    Inspired by John Hughes' imaginary town of Shermer, Illinois, singers Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey teleport from their London base to "Condale, California," the equally fictional setting for their terrifically tart debut. Warbling in U.K. starlet mode (think Sophie Ellis-Bextor), sometime NME writer Sankey delivers droll lyrics as if perpetually rolling her eyes to the heavens, while the production by Pulp veteran Steve Mackey combines chart smarts with indie get-up-and-go. The unstoppable opening slam of Sankey's snarky "Better Off Without You" and Warmsley's sincere "Brian Krakow" is the stuff Britpop dreams are made of.

  • Meshell Ndegeocello, 'Weather' (Naive)

    Meshell Ndegeocello, 'Weather' (Naive)

    After kick-starting neo-soul in the '90s, this chimerical bassist shimmied through countless genres as if to dodge and defy any tag -- racial, gender, sexual, aesthetic. Here, she teams with producer Joe Henry for a somber mood piece that plays the introspection of singer-songwriter folk as meditative jazz. Every musical stroke is a concise yet instinctive caress; there's no grandstanding, but plenty of sensual vulnerability that culminates in a Zen-like cover of the Soul Children's "Don't Take My Kindness for Weakness." On the way, Ndegeocello sings of longing and commitment while the bonsai-scaled instrumentation offers countermelodies to the gods.

  • Jane's Addiction, 'The Great Escape Artist' (Capitol)

    Jane's Addiction, 'The Great Escape Artist' (Capitol)

    For their previous temporary-reunion album, 2003's Strays, these dark alt gods created a superslick din seemingly designed for radio, but definitely not your heart. Here, the same three vets (still minus bassist Eric Avery) team with TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and Muse producer Rich Costey with results that slam like vintage, drug-addled scuzzbag rock (opening whammy "Underground," closing raver "Words Right Out of My Mouth"). Between those poles, 21st-century Jane's morphs into something resembling U2 on fastidiously uplifting anthems that clash fiercely with frontman Perry Farrell's anti-charisma -- particularly when he's lying to get laid or bragging about his ability to inflict scars.

  • Body Language, 'Social Studies' (Lavish Habits/Om)

    Body Language, 'Social Studies' (Lavish Habits/Om)

    Obviously inspired by fellow Brooklynites Dirty Projectors, this multiracial quartet cuts down on the art rock, gets busier with the R&B, and floats twinkling glockenspiel and twee boy/girl harmonies over bin-rattling booty bottom. They fill in the frequencies with glossy synth boogie, African percussion frenzies, and dub reverb up the wazoo. All that goo both bolsters and subverts their pop instincts; the synthetic slap bass on "Falling Out" feels so nasty because it rubs up against a vocal refrain that comes on like an over-friendly canine hell-bent on making sweet love to your knee.

  • Mayer Hawthorne, 'How Do You Do' (Universal Republic)

    Mayer Hawthorne, 'How Do You Do' (Universal Republic)

    Unlike the Brit birds of the last decade who've revived moldy soul, this Michigan-born, Los Angeles–based baby face doesn't wail as though his heart's been squashed. Even when confronting romantic ruin, he just shrugs and smiles: "I spilled hot coffee on my shirt / It hurt," goes a typically terse rhyme. The once-unlikely tale of Hawthorne's indie debut -- Stones Throw rap fanboy morphs into credible crooner -- now scans as natural evolution; his increasingly confident cries and grooves and songwriting aplomb are undeniably pro. And if Snoop Dogg's thin chirps compromise the Delfonics tribute "I Can't Stop," the ELO bittersweetness of "Dreaming" brings How Do You Do's star attraction ?one syncopated step closer to becoming the Woody Allen of blue-eyed soul.

  • Kid Creole & 
the Coconuts, 'I Wake Up Screaming' (Strut)

    Kid Creole & 
the Coconuts, 'I Wake Up Screaming' (Strut)

    Although August Darnell briefly became an '80s U.K. pop star, back home this Bronx-born bandleader is mostly remembered for Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, a swanky, quasi-big-band ensemble that's lived on via samples in M.I.A. and Ghostface Killah jams. For his first album in ages, Darnell encapsulates Buzzard's rise and fall with "Stony and Cory" while honing his retro-mondo beats with Hercules & Love Affair's Andy Butler. The Kid's voice has tarnished, but his wit-intensive, cross-genre revisionism still grooves like a multiculti Mensa disco party.

  • The Horrible Crowes, 'Elsie' (Side One Dummy)

    The Horrible Crowes, 'Elsie' (Side One Dummy)

    Sidestepping the solo tag by teaming with guitar tech Ian Perkins, Gaslight Anthem frontman Brian Fallon uses the Horrible Crowes moniker to dial down the volume on his personal brand of heartland rock. When he also holds back the bravado of his Springsteen-isms, this Jersey boy evokes Mark Eitzel's lonely white soul ?minus the danger, though his supertrad songwriting skills rarely fail him. Bellowing hoarsely while ivories tinkle and muted guitars gently twang, he comes across like a scenery-chewing Method actor marooned in a stoic Ingmar Bergman flick.

  • Ladytron, 'Gravity the Seducer' (Nettwerk)

    Ladytron, 'Gravity the Seducer' (Nettwerk)

    On their claustrophobic fifth album, this coed Liver-pool synth-pop quartet build on their creepiest former glories while withholding the hooks that previously put the sweet in their bitter. Despite layer upon layer of lacy plastic instrumentation and manipulated vocals, Gravity the Seducer lacks the infectious, dark-disco rumble of 2005 U.K. hit "Destroy Everything You Touch." The resolutely midtempo album peaks with the ghostly "Ace of Hz" (recycled from a ?recent greatest-hits record), which polishes chillwave's hazy psychedelia into glossy yet dense ice sculptures. Frostbite guaranteed.

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