St. Vincent Strange Mercy (September 13) Annie Clark, the one-woman virtuoso behind St. Vincent, is adept at musical contrasts. Her music meshes childlike whimsy (flitting orchestras, champagne-bubble languor) with undercurrents of macabre unease and experimental flourishes (blurts of skronking noise, odd rhythmic textures). Strange Mercy, her third full-length, continues in the vein of the sonic collisions found on 2009’s Actor. On “Surgeon,” strings and hazy ’80s synths cushion Clark’s trill as racing percussion and insistent quarter notes bleed into squealing effects and a battery-draining sense of dread. “Cruel,” meanwhile, matches dirty guitars and Talking Heads-like marching rhythms with her soaring, melodic vocal arcs. –ANNIE ZALESKI
Lady Antebellum Own the Night (September 13) The Nashville country-pop trio—better known these days as the Grammys’ reigning Record and Song of the Year winners—have already notched one No. 1 hit (“Just a Kiss”) from this follow-up album.
Wilco The Whole Love (September 27) Anyone who streamed the rockers’ eighth album over Labor Day weekend knows it makes room for electronic-touched experimentation, garage-fried pop and delicate acoustic numbers. In other words, it’s genre-flouting business as usual for Wilco.
DJ Shadow The Less You Know, The Better (September 27) The veteran beatmonger’s fourth studio album splices and dices metal, hip-hop, soul, electronics and well-chosen samples in exciting, meaningful ways.
Feist Metals (October 4) 1, 2, 3, 4 … Even if it doesn’t sell any iPods, album No. 4 from the Canadian songstress should have plenty of earbuds buzzing after a four-year wait.
Björk Biophilia (October 11) All of her projects are events. How to categorize one designed to bundle “a studio album, apps, a new website, custom-made musical instruments, live shows and educational workshops”? Simply put, it’s Björk.
Yelawolf Radioactive (October 25) Having Eminem as your label boss already guarantees a career boost; having Slim Shady produce parts of your debut album is just icing on the cake.
Coldplay Mylo Xyloto (October 25) Weird title notwithstanding, Coldplay’s latest looks to be a slightly less experimental version of 2008’s Viva la Vida. New-song YouTube footage reveals post-U2 stadium anthems with just enough sonic bite to prevent a snoozefest.
Kelly Clarkson Stronger (October 25) The Idol winner-turned-pop chameleon has spent her career soothing unjustly broken hearts and championing female empowerment. Expect more of the same here; she sounds raw and vulnerable on first single “Mr. Know It All.”
Tom Waits Bad as Me (October 25) The moon’s been out for hours, but it’s not yet time for bed. Not before you’ve had one more glass of whatever you’ve been drinking and listened to one last record. Nina Simone? Perfect, but you played it yesterday and the day before. John Fahey’s fingerpicking almost feels right, but this night is crying out for vocals. Tonight is calling for Tom Waits. You scan the titles, as you have so many times before. Closing Time, Swordfishtrombones, Mule Variations … each fits a particular mood, but at this moment you’re craving something else, a sound familiar yet totally fresh. Get ready to scratch your seven-year itch. Bad as Me arrives next month. –SPENCER PATTERSON
Lou Reed & Metallica Lulu (November 1) This collab seemed about as likely as Morrissey signing on as a McDonald’s spokesman. Yet here they are, doing … whatever this is going to be.
The Beach Boys The Smile Sessions (November 1) Brian Wilson’s completed 2004 Smile is superb, but who hasn’t dreamt of listening in on the original studio sessions—before they broke down and left the project unreleased for more than 35 years?