Adam Lambert — Trespassing (RCA)
Putting out a sophomore disc is a nightmare for most artists. But for Adam Lambert, it means a welcomed liberation, as we get to hear more of him and less of what his American Idol fans (and record label) demanded or expected of him. However, it’s also his attempt to hit the dance floor harder and tamp down some of the rock ‘n’ roll. Having said that, Lambert delivers his electropop chops with laser precision, and his voice never falters in its power. I think his most radio-ready, hit-making shot comes on “Never Close Our Eyes,” with its propulsive beat, acoustic guitars and highly infectious melody. Other highlights include the Scissor Sisters-esque, cowbell-humping “Kickin’ In,” the ultra funky “Shady” (featuring Sam Sparro and the legendary Nile Rogers) and his nod to Queen on the Pharrell-produced title track. He also ups the level of gay quotient in the lyrics, especially on the bouncy and breezy “Naked Love” and “Outlaws Of Love,” which will have an emotional resonance with the LGBTQ community—and his vocal delivery on this is absolutely flawless. Of the ballads, “Broken English” is my favorite (imagine Nine Inch Nails-meets-Goldfrapp). It’s great to hear Adam sounding so confident, focused and happy, proving that his career is really only just beginning. —Paul V.
Animal Kingdom — The Looking Away (BoomBox Records)
Animal Kingdom are a three-piece UK indie rock band. In 2009, they achieved minor notoriety with their wonderful single “Tin Man.” Animal Kingdom return this year with the superb The Looking Away. The band have retained many of the qualities that force critics to file them away as Keane/Snow Patrol/Band Of Horses also-rans. Animal Kingdom incidentally toured with two of those bands. The two things that separate The Looking Away from Animal Kingdom’s previous LP Signs And Wonders are songwriting and production. The band has written 10 songs showcasing Richard Sauberlich’s effortless falsetto. The hooks are embedded within subtle choruses and countless dissonant moans (the band’s signature), which helps create an enduring indie rock LP. The production (by Bat For Lashes super-producer David Kosten) is what really steps these guys up into the big leagues. The songs cohesively soar with shimmering strings and piano over an intoxicating combination of angular and jangly guitars. Lead single “Strange Attractor” explodes with a chorus perfectly simple and hypnotic—Coldplay wishes it was allowed to write stuff like this. “Everything At Once” is dark and cryptic and won’t leave your head. If you were contemplating picking up the new Keane LP, get this instead. You won’t be sorry. —Dominik Rothbard
Emeli Sandé — Our Version of Events (Capitol)
The Scottish-born, England-based soul singer Emeli Sandé has caused a stir overseas with her rich contralto and way with a hair-raising ballad. She’s often compared to Adele, and rightly so—they share more than just first names (Sandé was born Adele Emeli). They can both sell a ‘love/lost love’ tune to the cheap seats, and Sandé’s debut Our Version of Events has more than a handful of them. In fact, out of 14 tracks, nine are flat-out ballads, three are medium tempo and only one could be considered a dance-pop track. Don’t get me wrong—I love ballads. The cheap sentiment, the anthem-heavy pomp as a singer elevates base emotions into a worldview—what’s more thrilling?! Yet like Adele, I wish Sandé would up the BPMs, because when she’s careening through the scorching opener “Heaven,” she’s unstoppable. She follows that closely with the loping Alicia Keys-esque “My Kind of Love,” where she throws down her fidelity in a fit of pique much like prime Whitney. And then it gets slow—really slow. Of the many ballads, “Clown” and “Breaking the Law” are standouts. The rest are at the top of the class, yet you’ve heard them in one form or another. —Dan Loughry
Jer Ber Jones — Masked (Trophy Child Records)
Though most of us don’t live in a bubble, chances are many of us have not yet heard a covers record by a self-proclaimed Mormon, ex-polygamist “tranimal.” That phrase was coined by Jer Ber Jones, and the covers record to which we refer is Masked, 11 reinventions of well-loved tunes. If the titles weren’t attached to the songs, it might be nearly impossible to recognize them, since Jones adjures the vocal phrasing and melodies of the originals for a more tranimalistic approach. Case in point—leadoff track “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?” done in collaboration with the redoubtable Kristian Hoffman—is nothing like the bouncy Culture Club original. Jones sings in a freaky whisper atop an electro cushion of carnivalesque keyboards. It’s as if the Lady in the Radiator from David Lynch’s Eraserhead decided to front a synth band. And on it goes, from an electro-clash take on Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black” to a space-western version of Eurythmics’ “Love Is A Stranger” (sung by Jones’ ex-husband). As a strictly aural document, Masked pales quickly, but in a different context—live, say, with some dragtastic visual representation—this could be a mesmerizing experience. —Dan Loughry
Momus — Bibliotek (American Patchwork)
Bibliotek is the 25th album from Scottish recording artist Momus (born Nick Currie). Momus, like many great artists, goes through periods. His early work was a sort of wry biblical folk. It immediately ousted him from the burgeoning new wave scene of the early ‘80s, but that didn’t stop him. Nearly 30 years later, Currie has blown through such disparate genres as rap, house, analog baroque (it’s better than it sounds) and most recently lo-fi. Momus describes the album as a record of shudders, shivers and tingles, which collides the genres of pastoral and horror, offering a landscape of forests, fields and dunes. After reading that, it’s hard to describe it as anything else. “Erase” opens the album with quiet subdued vocals over exotic loops, evoking thoughts of Neil Tennant on massive amounts of opiates. “Farther” opens with a wonderful chorus and sounds like what OMD might’ve been had they never left their garage. Oskar Tennis Champion B-side “Erostratus” gets a nifty reworking here. “Core” is a fun cabaret number, and the title track is also great, but the album highlight is easily “Cheekbone”—labeled as a tribute to John Foxx, but so much more. Its androgynous strut (“She’s a gay boy…”) is contagious. At 15 songs, Bibliotek could’ve been trimmed a bit, but regardless, this is a worthy addition to the Momus cannon. —Dominik Rothbard
Rye Rye — Go! Pop! Bang! (Interscope)
Poor Rye Rye has one of the most delayed debut discs of all time, first waylaid by her pregnancy in 2009 and her label stalling its release—which meant not being able to capitalize on her buzzed-about singles with both M.I.A. (who is considered her mentor and who signed Rye Rye to her label imprint) and Robyn (who she eventually toured with last year). But better late than never, and the young Miss Rye’s debut mostly lives up to its self-acclaimed title. Spunky is the best adjective to describe her, as she adeptly spits out her rhymes and raps atop various music styles and vibes—hip hop, electropop, bhangra, urban and freestyle. The most rollicking track is her second duet with M.I.A. called “Better Than You,” which features a crafty sample of Ethel Merman’s “Anything You Can Do.” And though her original interpolation of Robyn’s “Be Mine” was a slow-burn ballad, the R3hab remix here transforms it into an electrofuzzy club banger. Most likely headed for Top 40 spins is “Crazy Bitch” (her infectious duet with Akon) or the Ibiza-minded “DNA” featuring Porcelain Black in the soaring choruses. At such a young age, Rye Rye has yet to cement her true thumbprint, but this is a promising career-starter. —Paul V.