The appearance by Kimbra on Gotye’s smash hit “Somebody That I Used to Know” takes the song from so-so to amazing. Truth be told, the New Zealand singer is more palatable as an artist than her quirky Australian-Belgian counterpart. Her style is familiar but can’t be boxed into any one genre; her songs are entrancing and offer new discoveries upon each spin. She can shift effortlessly from singing over slinky and danceable background beats to offering a haunting cover of Nina Simone’s “Plain Gold Ring” that does justice to the original and could even be better. That versatility makes her 2011 debut, Vows (Warner Bros.), a joy to listen to on many levels. Most striking, though, is how soulful she sounds, no matter what direction the music ends up taking her in. Gotye was only the beginning of her story.
RUNNERS-UP: Santigold, Ritzy Bryan [The Joy Formidable], Alexis Krauss [Sleigh Bells]