None of the songs on here sound as good as “Only Girl in the World”; Rihanna’s latest album feels like it will be appreciated over time for what it tries to do more than for what it initially did. I see a “top 40 Rihanna” trying to move over into her own niche—and for the hardest-working pop star out there, encouraging that transition is the least we can do.
9. Purity Ring
This duo showed so much promise and hype when the first of their songs leaked early last year, and Shrines is an album that tries hard to stretch a perfect yet difficult pop formula and repeat it over 11 tracks. The album is noted for its originality, even through its weaker parts.
8. Lana Del Rey
Born to Die
Although it sometimes drowns in the melodrama and melancholy of its own lyrics, Del Rey’s major debut received constant rotation throughout the year from me thanks to its perfect production; the strings and orchestra mixed with trip-hop vibes are a joy for the ears, even if the subject matter bums you out of even the best of moods.
7. Perfume Genius
Put Your Back N 2 It
Mike Hadreas recorded Put Your Back N 2 It in his mother’s home after moving back to his hometown of Washington. On this record, Hadreas explores themes of angst, sexuality, and self-consciousness—each of which he had to deal with in his life before writing this record. The result is raw, personal, and exceptionally well-crafted.
6. How to Dress Well
Doing indie R&B better than anybody right now, How to Dress Well’s Tom Krell improves on his debut, 2010’s Love Remains, by perfecting his sound and removing the static and distortion of his earlier work. Songs like “Cold Nites” and “& It was U” might sound better only if The Weeknd had recorded them instead—and even then it’s hard to say.
5. Kendrick Lamar
good kid, m.A.A.d city
Lamar’s verses on good kid, probably the strongest rap album released this year, are catchy but no less well-written for it. After a few listens, I notice this autobiographical record sometimes feels more cinematic than a late showing of Lincoln. Highly recommended. 4. Usher
Looking 4 Myself
“Climax” is one of the better songs of Usher’s career; it gives you shivers before he even sings anything. It’s not surprising that Looking 4 Myself was so successful. Gone is the Usher trying to compete with his younger peers by making club bangers. He’s not afraid to be vulnerable—in between all the great earworm tracks—and here we see an Usher that cares.
3. Fiona Apple
The Idler Wheel…
Apple created the best album of her career with the visceral and honest The Idler Wheel. With so little production on the album, Apple’s voice becomes the focus. She’s also not ashamed of her emotions. The record is an instant classic that the college radio crowd would’ve swooned over in the ’90s.
2. Frank Ocean
ORANGE explodes with feeling in the very first line Ocean sings on “Thinkin Bout You”. It’s his knack for crafting unusual hooks that build up into explosively catchy songs that wins you over. Even the thought and intensity involved in creating a work of this magnitude is impressive on its own, and luckily, the result is also very, very good.
Using her angelic voice as an instrument through layering and distortion, Claire Boucher of Grimes created an album that uses pop hooks in distinct and innovative ways. Ranging from robotic to human, current to otherworldly. From the ominous “Oblivion” to the vulnerable “Skin”, I never get tired of it, but continue to listen to it as the year winds down.