When Bright Eyes puts out an album, you wonder which Conor Oberst will come out to play: the fragile, acoustic one or the joyful, buoyant one. On his latest, the Nebraska native reconciles the two personalities. Combining orchestral swells with his usual rock-folk cadence, he presents the most complete view of his fractured world yet--and his strongest collection of tunes.
Download: "Hot Knives"
Debut Du Jour: What's the Time Mr. Wolf?, Noisettes (Universal Motown)
Punky-rocky-bluesy British outfit the Noisettes release an album as exuberant as their name suggests. lead singer Shingai Shoniwa throws her voice around in measured carelessness while her two backup boys bring the guitars and drums. Unlike other bands claiming a new sound, they've got the freshness to prove it.
Download: "Don't Give Up"
Because Opium's Illegal: The Meaning of 8, Cloud Cult (Earthology Records)
Weirdo rockers Cloud Cult release their next album of mad-scientist-approved songs. Transcendent on minute and inferno-y the next, this is sure to be one of the most philosophical, sumptuous and beautiful CDs you'll hear all year.
Download: "Chemicals Collide"
The Sophomore Gem: Know Me, Ne-Yo (Island Def Jam)
After going platinum-and-a-half on his debut, Ne-Yo's back with a second disc, crooning relationship truths like only a solo songwriter can. Showing off his wide vocal range--and borrowing Jennifer Hudson's for one track--he hits us with love, lust, and heartbreak. Ne-Yo might just be the heir apparent to R&B pop king Usher--minus the abs, of course.
Download: "Say It"
Worth a Revisit: Lovin' that swelling, epic feeling? Get reacquainted with Sufjan Steven's Midwestern masterpiece, Illinois.
Two guys, a girl, and the best band ever. Spin the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' frenetic LP Fever to Tell for more menage a quality.