Kings of Leon
Album: Only by the Night (RCA)
In stores: Now
Why we care: Kings of Leon should be your favorite band. Four albums in, they should be huge. Their story is irresistible: three sons (and a nephew) of a Pentecostal preacher rocking in the fuzzy space between sin and salvation. Party, plead for mercy, repeat. It's Southern gothic, but it's not country.
Why we like it: Lead singer Caleb Followill has genuine desperation in his voice, a creepy wariness that can summon late-night gooseflesh. Only by the Night is their most commercially savvy record, but the battle between good, evil and Jack Daniel's remains fierce.
Reminds us of: I saw KOL open for U2, and although I adore Bono & Co., I didn't want the Followills to stop. This stuff gets you good.
Download these: Sex on Fire and Closer
Album: Feel That Fire (Capitol)
In stores: Feb. 3
Why we care: DB's new album opens with the same hot-rod guitar rev that commences Motley Crue's Kickstart My Heart. The comparisons between the metalheads and the country road dog pretty much end there, but the randy axemanship lets you know that Bentley is in a mischief-making mood, putting a little 'tude in his Nashville pop.
Why we like it: Power chords drive these rock 'n' rumblers, many written with noted brother teams Brett and Brad Warren and Jim and Brett Beavers. Although his voice lacks spark, Bentley recorded the album with his road band, and there's a loose, loud energy throughout.
Reminds us of: His fans are nuts. Hot, but nuts.
Download this: Here She Comes, Here We Go
Late of the Pier
Album: Fantasy Black Channel (Astralwerks)
In stores: Now
Why we care: A little Bowie, a lot of the Cure. A lot of the Arctic Monkeys, a little Led Zep. This quartet from Castle Donington in Leicestershire has been described as "absurdist futurism," but I have no idea what that means. A lot of Danny Elfman, a little Duran Duran. See? Much easier.
Why we like it: There's great drama to LOTP's plodding synths and rickety breakbeats. But despite the UK crew's heady material, the ultimate goal is teen spaz-out. They've also been described as "arena-electro," and that makes more sense. The shock-ska of Broken deals with the "pressures of growing up" by making kids rage so hard they forget all about 'em.
Reminds us of: If Devo dated supermodels
Download these: Broken and Bathroom Gurgle
SONG OF THE WEEK
Song: Pony (It's OK)
Album: Love, Save the Empty (Republic)
In stores: Now
Why we care: A hit on iTunes and at last year's SxSW music fest, this Dallas product is poised to be 2009's Colbie Caillat (Bubbly) or Sara Bareilles (Love Song). She's a natural folkie who knows better, framing her introspective poetry in pretty pop packaging.
Why we like it: McCarley isn't shy about professing her love for Fiona Apple, and she wears the influence proudly: the aggressive piano, the deceptively confident chorus, the sly slapping of a dumb boy. McCarley believes in happy endings more than Fi-Fi does, and that could result in better sales. But who knows? When it comes to songwriters a la McCarley (and Feist and Marie Digby and . . .), it's crowded out there.
Reminds us of: McCarley plays the State Theatre in St. Petersburg on Jan. 18.