1. COMPANY OF THIEVES, Ordinary Riches (Wind-up) Genevieve Schatz's vocals are pretty and buoyant, with a surplus of power. The adventurous songs play to those strengths, elevating her well-enunciated belting to the level of rock opera. A cozily familiar '70s sound brings it home, girding the literary opus "Oscar Wilde."
Download Now: "In Passing"
2. A.C. NEWMAN, Get Guilty (Matador) Pop music is often a con job: The melody sets you up to fall for the lyrics, even if you're sketchy on their meaning. Newman, the songwriter behind The New Pornographers, delivers on both, summoning a collective grandeur from guitars, moaning cellos, and shimmering cymbals in songs like "Changeling," whose bitter musings sting like a fresh slap.
Download Now: "The Heartbreak Rides"
3. NICO VEGA, Nico Vega (MySpace Records) Appealingly husky with a hair-trigger scream, this is the voice of a rock god. Only it's a goddess--lead singer Aja--fronting this hard-rocking L.A. trio, who spend most of their debut disc hedging between uninhibited and out of control. Pump a manicured fist in the air.
Download Now: "Gravity"
4. M. WARD, Hold Time (Merge) What makes these songs so entrancing is their timelessness--is this dusty proto-pop? country-folk? "Never Had Nobody Like You," the cuddly duet with Zooey Deschanel, is pure 1950s; Lucinda Williams's old-school caw on "Oh Lonesome Me" furthers the history lesson. No matter the decade, M. Ward makes you feel something--joy, romance, nostalgia--in the now.
Download Now: "To Save Me"