Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
This Southern American rock record has a classic sound with plenty of heavy hooks and pleasant twang. Lead singer Brittany Howard passionately belts her husky moans that could be mistaken for a man. Their first single, “Hold On” captivates listeners from the first note. Every track on the record is filled with soulful emotion, which is an uncommon trait in this modern era.
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Frank’s dramatic album persuasively crosses many genres with confidence and a primary sound that can best be described as future soul. His creative new media innovations for distribution and spreading his messages helped promote his record. The smooth R&B sounds poetically express grave inner feelings and struggles like confessions from a diary. Songs last a variety lengths (“Pyramids” is by far the best track and spans 10 minutes) and all have deeply personal subject matters.
Tame Impala – Lonerism
No sophomore slump for the Australian rock band, and actually, a welcome upgrade over their debut record Innerspeaker. Their style is clearly influenced by ’60s and ’70s psychedelic jam rock not commonly heard from today’s artists. Steady grooves are present throughout, powerfully emphasizing their dreamy melodies. Favorite tracks on the album are the slow building “Gotta Be Above It” and the thunderous “Elephant.”
Mumford & Sons – Babel
With the arrival of this album, folk and bluegrass became not only mainstream, but an inspiration for artists from disparate genres. It was an unexpected, runaway success that eclipsed their previous album. The record features plenty of emotive singalongs destined for weddings, campfires and road trips. The bold banjo ballads resonate passionately without the use of an amp or power chords.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city
Dr. Dre definitely knows how to identify rap talent better than most, and music fans should have realized Kendrick’s potential after sharing the stage with Dre at Coachella for their track, “The Recipe.” His debut album contains vivid stories of his Compton upbringing. He narrates through intricate rhymes that convey deeper moral themes. His woozy flows backed by thumping beats are constantly adjusted for varying tempos. There was plenty of hype leading up to album release and public reception still exceeded expectations.
Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
These art rockers from Leeds, England harmoniously serenade listeners with catchy lyrics that cover all vocal ranges. Their vintage electro-pop sound effectively utilizes undertones of heavy bass. The band has experienced a rapid rise to stardom, culminating with their Mercury Prize win. Thankfully they have three live performances scheduled in San Francisco over the next four months.
Kanye West – Cruel Summer
Kanye is obviously the opposite of bashful, unafraid to approach or comment on any subject. His reckless bravado on this album and his tendency to boast about his biblical beliefs blend well with his frequently bouncing bass. The record includes loads of star power: John Legend, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, Jay-Z all fabulously contributing their talents. Kanye is a lyrical thrillseeker with bombastic pop-culture references: the more controversial the bigger the impact.
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
Channeling the immense creativity from his Talking Heads days, David Byrne returns to the music scene armed with brass instruments that contribute immensely to his classic style. Wide vocal ranges sounds almost conversational, often alternating between David and multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter St. Vincent. Byrne’s veteran perspective is applied to the modern era of music thanks to the timeless style. The almost thespian approach to their music gives the album strong artistic feel.
Jack White – Blunderbuss
This solo debut by the former White Stripes frontman takes plenty of musical risks thanks to Jack’s wild imagination and lack of fear. The album was recorded in a Nashville studio and as a result exhibits plenty of midwest creativity. It also features collaboration with his own hand-picked band that uses a wide range of instruments to produce diverse sounds. White’s aggressive yelps and energetic hammer tones emphasize his overly witty lyrics.
Joey Bada$$ – 1999
This is the debut mixtape from an impressive and lyrically mature Brooklyn hip-hop talent. Joey freakishly exudes musical abilities well beyond his years (he’s only 17). He is currently a member of The Progressive Era, a music collective that focuses on reviving the “golden age” New York hip-hop. The consistently lush sound on the album bears more resemblance to that of a major studio-backed effort. It also features both posthumous J Dilla and MF DOOM beats that evidently portray his admirably good music taste.