Album: Strange Mercy (4AD)
Why we care: Like Snow White on peyote, or maybe Bjork if she shopped at the Gap, Annie "St. Vincent" Clark is a black-sheep romantic who will either marry Prince Charming or push him down the wishing well. Adorably scary and slyly populist, this Dallas art-rock indie darling has genuine commercial appeal (that she couldn't care less about).
Why we like it: A former member of the Polyphonic Spree, St. Vincent has doe eyes and a lilting coo — so better to jar you with, my dear. She blends danger-girl poetry with rock, funk, techno and pop. Her '09 album Actor was the best of that year. Strange Mercy suffers a bit from overambition, but it's still hypnotizing.
Reminds us of: How about Trent Reznor if his Nine Inch Nails were painted pink?
Download this: Northern Lights
Album: In the Key of Disney (Disney Pearl)
Why we care: We know Brian Wilson can make brilliant Pet Sounds, but how does the surf-pop genius do with the rest of the talking animal kingdom? Here the childlike Beach Boy, now 69, rearranges 11 Mouse House classics. Why? Because he can.
Why we like it: This one's pretty much a mess, ranging from the Vegas splat of Colors of the Wind to the strained Can You Feel the Love Tonight. Better is Heigh Ho/Whistle While You Work/Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me), which sounds like the inner workings of a broken cuckoo clock (a.k.a. Wilson's brain).
Reminds us of: The album drops on Oct. 25. Trust me, Mouseketeers, you can wait.
Download this: When You Wish Upon a Star, which slyly borrows from Wilson's recent take on Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
Album: Duets II (Columbia)
Why we care: Yes, Tony Bennett is a legend, a prince, a champ who can still hit golden notes. But he's also 85. I'm all in favor of May-December relationships, but a duet only succeeds if there's at least a whiff of heat and seduction on both sides. And several of the ladies here (Carrie Underwood, Norah Jones, Lady Gaga) are young enough to be Bennett's butler's granddaughter.
Why we like it: Credit Gagaloo for forgoing heat for ham on a silly The Lady Is a Tramp. Far more believable in the amour department are weary old pros Bennett and Aretha Franklin contemplating life, love and death on How Do You Keep the Music Playing.
Reminds us of: Listen to Bennett fall for Amy Winehouse on a bittersweet Body and Soul.
Download this: The Lady Is a Tramp
Album: Queen 40: 1977-1982 (Hollywood)
Why we care: If Lady Gaga's You and I sends you into curious time-travel spirals — say, back to 1977 — perhaps it's because Queen's Brian May is responsible for the hit's laser-gun guitar part. Wow, has there ever been a band with such unique arena "tone"? From Freddie Mercury's saucy-prince vocal to May's riffs, Queen has become hot again thanks to a rare musicianship that combined vision, heart and great sonic swagger.
Why we like it: Disney's Hollywood label has prettily boxed up Queen's heyday albums — five gems in a row — from 1977's News of the World to 1982's Hot Space.
Reminds us of: As of press time, Under Pressure is my favorite song of all time.
Download this: The entirety of 1980 album The Game — okay, skip Rock It (Prime Jive).