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Sky Ferreira: Night Time, My Time 

As Miley, Gaga and Katy wage tepid culture wars with their latest studio chaff, the best pop has moved off-charts. It's been a year of remarkable alt-pop albums - led by CHVRCHES' spectacular The Bones of What You Believe, AlunaGeorge's nearly-as-good Body Music and Charli XCX's unfairly overlooked and under-appreciated True Romance—so it's a formidable task to stand out from the crowd. Sky Ferreira's debut takes a curious route, mixing upbeat new wave-inspired dance tracks that fit the current mood with dark gothic dirges that are very nearly anti-pop. Even Night Time, My Time's starkly vulnerable topless cover photo announces that the persona Ferreira's crafting for herself is closer to "raw, exposed nerve" than "hyper-confident dance diva."

That's not to say NT, MT doesn't have a tough side. It does, thrillingly, from the muscular opening track "Boys" to the deep-alto verses on the wonderful "You're Not the One." The title track recalls PJ Harvey's career-redefining To Bring You My Love, with its swampy cabaret languor.

But the gauzy mood of "Love in Stereo" and dizzy, closing-credits affirmation of "24 Hours" give the record balance, keep things moving between light and dark, between brooding and buoyancy.

Pop is often the language of self-empowerment, especially on the Billboard Hot 100. So it's thrilling when Ferreira insists on merging the confessional, self-effacing subject matter usually relegated to ballads into weirdly discordant dance tracks like "Ain't Your Right" and album highlight "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)."

More by Sean Bottai

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