Album: Whatever's On Your Mind (ATO)
Why we care: Like Coldplay with hairier chests and better drugs, these trippy Brit-poppers have been spinning heads and mending hearts since '97 — and I've been gushing about 'em just as long. Gomez has three sublime, but wildly different, singers, including all-world Ben Ottewell, who sounds like Winnie-the-Pooh at middle age. Jazz, jam, '70s soft rock: You name it, they play it.
Why we like it: Gomez can get spacey and obtuse, but this one is relatively breezy and accessible (love the horns), making for a solid starter album for new fans. Soul-searching influences range from the Fabs to Jim Croce.
Reminds us of: The band's biggest American splash? A cover of the Beatles' Getting Better used by Philips in 1998 to sell flatscreen TVs.
Download these: Options and X-Rays
Album: Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
Why we care: When folk-pop eccentric Bon Iver, a.k.a. Eau Claire, Wisc.,'s Justin Vernon, guested on rapper Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, some folks cried strange bedfellows. Well, they were right about "strange." But despite being from disparate genres, Vernon and West are envelope-pushing peas in a shape-shifting pod.
Why we like it: Bon Iver's music is weird, wanderlusty, so his second LP's geographical theme makes sense, or as much sense as this futuristic lumberjack has ever made. Minnesota, WI sounds like wind rushing through a stand of electric birch trees. Wash. is gauzy and low-key, a tinkly piano of loneliness.
Reminds us of: Is album-closing Beth/Rest a lark or an earnest nod to Say You, Say Me?
Download these: Perth and Wash.
Album: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2 (Nonesuch)
Why we care: Eight years ago, the Mark Twain of popular song sat down at a baby grand and stripped his "hits" — Sail Away, Rednecks, Louisiana 1927 — to highlight his ticked-off-bullfrog croak and poignant, political lyrics. It was intimate, intimidating. Now here's Vol. 2 of the Randy Newman Songbook, this one delving deeper into the 67-year-old's merciless songbook: Losing You, Baltimore, Birmingham.
Why we like it: Without the strings and racket, many cuts flash new meaning. A spare Dixie Flyer packs wistful autobio punch, an old man revisiting salad days.
Reminds us of: Still haven't seen Randy play live, which eats at me on a daily basis.
Download this: Losing You changes key but not its devastating mortal meaning.
Cee Lo Green, Paul McCartney
Album: Rave On Buddy Holly (Fantasy)
Why we care: Charles Hardin Holley, the pride of Lubbock, Texas, would have been 75 years old on Sept. 7, 2011, which is a jarring reminder of how young he was when he perished in that plane crash on the day the music died. At just 22, Buddy Holly had already written great chunks of the rock 'n' roll bible with pen, voice and guitar.
Why we like it: This is one of the best tribute records I've heard in a while, with an eclectic roster of Holly fans paying respects: Sir Paul punking up It's So Easy, the Strokes' Julian Casablancas jangling out Rave On.
Reminds us of: Cee Lo can officially sing anything, as he proves with a killer cover of (You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care.
Download these: Not Fade Away (Florence & the Machine); Well All Right (Kid Rock)