Viva La Vida |

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CRITIC'S CHOICE

ALT-ROCK

On the brilliant, anthemic title track of Coldplay's fourth studio disc, Chris Martin sings about remembering past glories: "I used to rule the world/Seas would rise when I gave the word." But as Viva La Vida demonstrates, Coldplay's world domination is very much in the here and now. This is the work of a band at the peak of its powers, the album to beat in 2008—hands down. Building on 2005's excellent X&Y, the CD finds Coldplay stretching out sonically with the help of U2 producer Brian Eno (only furthering the case for this quartet as the new U2). Their more expansive sound extends from flamenco rhythms and Middle Eastern textures to sweeping strings and hard-rock guitars. On "Yes," maybe the darkest place they've ever gone, the famously falsettoed Martin even explores his lower register to eerie effect. The tour de force, though, comes on "42," a three-part epic that starts off as a classic Coldplay piano ballad, kicks into a prog-style instrumental jam and turns into a full-on stadium stomper. As on other songs, the specter of death lurks: "Those who are dead are not dead/They're just living in my head." But Coldplay has never sounded more vital.

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ALT-POP

Amy Winehouse better watch out: The "new Amys" are coming on strong in '08. On the heels of Estelle and Duffy, Adele is continuing the charge of retro-soul chanteuses from the U.K. And this 20-year-old Londoner is arguably the best of them all. Her smashing debut—which opened at No. 1 in the U.K. after it was released there last January—seamlessly weaves R&B, pop, jazz, folk and blues into her own torchy tapestry. With a knockout voice that's rich and supple, robust and sultry, it's hard to believe that this singer-songwriter is barely out of her teens.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Chasing Pavements," the lush, soaring single

All I Intended to Be |

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COUNTRY/FOLK

Emmylou Harris, always a sought-after collaborator, gets some help from her friends on her first solo outing since 2003. Vince Gill, Buddy Miller, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Harris' Trio cohort Dolly Parton all lend voice to this disc of originals and well-chosen covers like Tracy Chapman's "All That You Have Is Your Soul." But it is Harris—a model of grace and restraint who could school today's Nashville belters—who sets the beauty standard here.
DOWNLOAD THIS: "Broken Man's Lament," an aching story song

Weezer |

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ALT-ROCK

"Everyone likes to dance to a happy song/With a catchy chorus and beat so they can sing along." So sings Rivers Cuomo on "Pork and Beans," the hook-filled highlight of Weezer's third self-titled album. And he should know: His band has made a career out of infectious, upbeat tunes like "Buddy Holly" and "Beverly Hills." But here they also add elements of rock opera—shades of Green Day's American Idiot—most notably on "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived (Variations on a Shaker Hymn)." It falls short of greatness, but it's still good stuff.

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CASSANDRA WILSON Loverly
The smoky-voiced songstress shows her love for jazz standards on this seductive set, stripping it all the way down for the highlights "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and "The Very Thought of You."

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THE FRATELLIS Here We Stand
Sophomore slump? Not so much. The Scottish indie rockers prove 2007's impressive debut, Costello Music, was no fluke. Best tracks: the riff-roaring "My Friend John" and the boogying "Mistress Mabel."

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PRISCILLA AHN A Good Day
This singer-songwriter was heard on last month's Grey's Anatomy season finale, which featured her ethereal ballad "Dream." There's more lithe, lovely folk-pop where that came from on her full-length debut.

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PRIMA J Prima J
Cousins Jessica and Janelle Martinez make up this new duo, which flavors these summer-ready confections with Latin pop and light hip-hop. Despite some forgettable moments, this is a guilty pleasure.

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The Sex and the City costar, 26, is wrapping up her debut album, due in September

ON HER ALBUM For the fans from American Idol and Dreamgirls, we have the big ballads. But I also show my versatility. I did a duet with Ludacris, so you'll get a little hip-hop, and you'll get a little pop, a little R&B, and I even have a gospel song.

ON SARAH JESSICA PARKER'S SINGING VOICE It's adorable—I love it! She's always running around singing. I just love the fact that she's so happy. People sing when they're happy, and she just sings out of joy.