Justin Bieber shows us his vulnerable side on his first adult album.
On Purpose, Bieber leaves teen-pop behind to adopt EDM and R&B with help of counterparts like Skrillex and Diplo. He gets personal on “I’ll Show You,” lamenting: “This life’s not easy/ I’m not made out of steel / Don’t forget that I’m human/ Don’t forget that I’m real.” –Michelle Solomon
Grimes aims for the heavens.
It’s a rare, magical moment when an “underground” artist makes a statement so strong it pulls the mainstream towards itself. Jamie xx made one this year, and now so has Canadian Grimes. Her fourth album Art Angels is both polished and uncompromising, blending new wave, J-pop and unabashed feminism, along with her remarkable, Bjork-rivaling voice. –Party Ben
INDIE SUBMISSION OF THE WEEK
“Post-classical” post rockers paint it black(ish).
Like their sonic brethren in Mogwai, Godpeed! You Black Emperor and Explosions In The Sky, Florida’s Set And Setting are masters of brooding, slow-build dynamics and epic, instrumental majesty. On Equanimity, they balance that measured moodiness with some surprisingly fierce blasts of (almost) black metal buzz and dense swells of dreamy, psychedelic bombast. –Andee Connors
San Francisco stalwarts end the war on Christmas.
Ok, so Train’s 2015 Holiday album Christmas In Tahoe might not have rescued Christmas from those questionably controversial red cups, but they did cover Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” (replete with a classic horn section) and Stevie Wonder’s buoyant “What Christmas Means To Me.” Their own “Christmas Island” is a soulful yuletide rocker. –Eric Shea
Eric Church surprised us last week with Mr. Misunderstood, an introspective follow-up to The Outsiders. In the biggest standout, “Mistress Named Music,” he unapologetically combines all his musical influences, from stripped-down guitar to choir-backed anthem. The title track is a thoughtful reflection for his younger self. The common thread? Music can get you through just about anything. –Rachel Whitney
Ellie Goulding reveals pop maturity on Delirium.
Ellie Goulding has flirted with indie dance, EDM, and, well, Skrillex. Now she joins pal Taylor Swift in reviving ‘80s sing-along pop exuberance with the help of Swedish uber-producer Max Martin. Dance trends like pitched vocals and house-y basslines get nods, but this is a romantic—and powerful—pop album through and through. –Party Ben
Post-Dead euphoria infects Trey Anastasio.
When the lead singer/guitarist of Phish releases a solo album, a question arises: “What makes this not a Phish album?” The line is definitely blurry, but on Paper Wheels, the difference is a focus on songwriting. Hints of Steely Dan, Santana, and Neil Young percolate through his lush guitar tone and elaborate vocal arrangements. –Diego Gonzalez
El Mayimbe and The King.
Bachata legend Anthony Santos, who recently bought an “H,” and current bachata royalty Romeo Santos, collaborate on this playful guitar-driven merengue to postulate on a problem that is plaguing both of them. Namely, their ladies like it rough en la cama. Happy coincidence! Steeped in an old school vibe, “Masoquismo” fulfills all assumptions and expectations. –Marcos Juarez