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.