Hellogoodbye

Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!

(Drive-Thru)

Few modern emo/punk/whatever whippersnappers capture the essence of the decade when keyboards ruled the world — largely because their view of the 1980s comes secondhand via Vh1 or retro-radio hours. However, an exception to this rule can be made for the young Cali quartet Hellogoodbye, which displays serious synth-smarts (and a mean Vocoder!) on Zombies! , an exuberant collection of punk-pop that nods to New Order, blink-182, and '80s Top 40 radio hits.

Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3

Ole Tarantula!

(Yep Roc)

The absent-minded professor of Nuggets-style psychedelic garage rock continues his creative resurgence with Tarantula, a kaleidoscopic album of melodic gems drenched in harmony and surrealistic imagery. Recorded in conjunction with the Venus 3 — a.k.a. Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Bill Rieflin of R.E.M./The Minus 5 — and featuring a track co-written by XTC majordomo Andy Partridge ("'Cause It's Love [Saint Parallelogram]"), the album trades in fizzy fuzz-jangle that more often than not belies lyrical melancholy. "N.Y. Doll" is a somber remembrance of the late New York Dolls bassist Arthur Kane, while Hitchcock wrote the effervescent pop burst "Underground Sun" for another late friend.

Muse

Black Holes and Revelations

(Reprise)

Muse traded in pretentious prog bombast long before it became trendy on their its three albums — and creates the Platonic ideal of the form on Revelations with "Knights of Cydonia," a galloping, apocalyptic single gnarled with doom-metal riffs and robots-in-space vocals. But the supercharged UK trio wisely expands its worldview to include sci-fi funk, stompy goth, and even Rufus Wainwright-esque balladry on Revelations, its poppiest and most emotionally affecting outing yet. Just try to avoid shedding a tear during the longing "Starlight," where glassy piano intertwines with diffracted synths and vocalist Matt Bellamy croons, "I just wanted to hold you in my arms" like an anguished astronaut about to be lost forever in space.

The Shins

Wincing the Night Away

(Sub Pop)

Physical copies of the Shins' third album aren't in stores until 2007, although its presence on any number of file-sharing services means that, more or less, it may as well have already been released. More sedate and less accessible than the band's first two discs, Wincing is an album for those outgrowing twentysomething-borne uncertainty and settling into careers, relationships, and (gasp!) maturity. Nevertheless, the Flaming Lips-esque psych-dreamscape "Sea Legs" displays sonic adventurousness, and the wistful relationship-analysis "Turn on Me" has a hollow nostalgia reminiscent of R.E.M.'s early mysticism.

Gwen Stefani

The Sweet Escape

(Interscope)

Save for the yodel-tastic "Wind It Up" and a Pharrell-featuring game of "disco-Tetris" called "Yummy," the No Doubt vocalist wisely chooses to focus on songcraft instead of flamboyance on her second solo effort. This makes her staunch girl power all the more effective, whether she's channeling Madonna's Like a Prayer-era balladry ("Early Winter"), embracing her inner goth ("Wonderful Life"), or doing her best Sheena Easton impression (the sunshine-soul title track featuring Akon).

Thom Yorke

The Eraser

(XL)

Thom Yorke's seduction technique with Radiohead has always revolved around mystery — so it's no surprise that The Eraser, his solo debut, also explores misty vistas. Although built on a foundation of repetition and detailed sonic atmosphere (fragmented electronica loops, stuttering beat-blips and skeletal piano), Eraser derives its power from Yorke's feathery falsetto. He croons half-formed phrases and whispered slogans like an otherwordly siren, creating an eerily romantic song-cycle full of enigmas that stir the heart and brain. Annie Zaleski

Español Sung Here: Crossing over — who's doing it, who's not

Latin/Anglo Crossover is what Latin American artists have always dreamt of and what American artists are starting to realize they need to pull big sales numbers out of a shrinking market. Crossover success means jackpots in both concert tickets and CD sales, so expanding a fan base across genres, countries, and languages just makes sense for today's artists. But it takes more than just throwing in a few words of español here and there, lots more.

Take Ricky Martin, for example. While it seemed like his star was born in just one three-minute Grammy performance in 1999 when he went from hot Latin crooner to, well, hot Latin crooner, Martin had been prepping that performance for years. He had toured since he was 13, acted on General Hospital, worked with world-class producers and songwriters, spent countless hours on his abs, and oh yeah, he had enormous talent. Shakira is another singer who has found crossover heaven, recording in both Spanish and English, winning both MTV Music Awards and Latin Grammys, and again, her "overnight success" came after years of effort and enormous talent. Conversely, it has taken Cuban-born Gloria Estefan, a major star in the English-language market, decades before she has been able to record in her native Spanish.

So, who's on the verge of following Martin, Estefan, and Shakira into crossover heaven, and who's doomed to ethnocentric hell? Here's our list.

Who: Pitbull

Destination: Crossover heaven

Why: For starters, well-done and catchy music. Rapper Pitbull plays the Cuban card just enough to let people know that he's proud, but not so much that it's a turn-off. Pitbull is based in Miami, still the Latin music Mecca for the U.S. Producers, songwriters, session musicians, A&R guys...almost everyone in the business goes through Miami at some point. Pitbull's, um, rabid Miami fan base, keeps him on stage 24/7 when he's at home, and that let's everyone know he is the hot, hot guy these days.

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