Titus Andronicus — “The Monitor”
Titus Andronicus’ second album sounds ridiculous on paper — a concept album about the Civil War that samples speeches from Lincoln, the poetry of Walt Whitman and battle songs of the Union army, along with bit of Bruce Springsteen (practically a must for any band emerging from Jersey these days). But bandleader Patrick Stickles uses his earnestness to overcome the sly jokes about such a pretentious concept, and has put together an album that fuses his angry-young-man posturing with a new and welcome maturity.
Stickles mixes the highbrow Shakespeare references with his own stories of drinking his time away in suburban New Jersey and his difficulty of leaving behind a place he has always had mixed feelings towards (and for my money, it’s more observant than the similarly-themed “The Suburbs” from the Arcade Fire this year). He howls his disappointments in vicious tracks like “Richard II” and “A More Perfect Union.” The Civil War is simply a backdrop for his own angst, a counterpoint to the smallness of growing up and the danger of the world beyond. Listen again and again; it begs to be unpacked.
— Michael W. Richardson
The Dead Weather — “Sea of Cowards”
Since there were far too many great rap albums to choose from this year — like Kid Cudi’s “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager,” Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” Nicki Minaj’s “Pink Friday” and Wiz Khalifa’s mixtape “Kush and Orange Juice”— it was easier to stick with the rock album that put all other rock albums to shame.
As any fan of alterna-rock will tell you, Jack White is already a living legend. Thus, any side project he does without Meg White, his double bass counterpart in the White Stripes, is still bound to be incredible. His latest supergroup — comprised of Alison Mosshart (The Kills, Discount) on vocals, J.L. Lawrence (The Raconteurs) on bass, Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) on lead guitar, and White himself on drum, vocals and occasional guitar duty — released their sophomore album, “Sea of Cowards,” in late May. The album is an amalgam of gothic techno, riff heavy choruses and shredding electric guitars. And, while White is the biggest name on the bill, it’s singer Alison Mosshart that truly shines on this album. Her voice ranges from low and enticing to loud and harsh, singing lyrics that bark and shriek, dripping with rock’n’roll fury. Everything comes together on the bluesy single “Die by the Drop.”
— Yohana Desta
Big Boi — “Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty “
Big Boi is talented, and as the beefier half of Georgia’s OutKast, he has the Grammy awards to prove it. His newest solo album — if you aren’t counting Speakerboxxx — is just so much fun to listen to not only because it’s so painstakingly well-produced, but also because each song is so different from the one before it without making the album too jarring.
When listening to the vibrant nuances of tracks like “Night Night,” “You Ain’t No DJ,” and of course, “Shutterbugg,” with their clever lyrics, infectious beats and impressive addition of guest vocals, you get a sense of just how seriously Big Boi takes his music. And in consideration of this fact, it’s really no wonder that this album was years in the making.
— Stephan Cho
Cee-Lo Green — “The Lady Killer”
With the release of the hysterically catchy single “F—- You,” Cee-Lo Green cemented his status as one of the best artists of the summer. And with the release of his third solo album, “The Lady Killer,” this November, Green is poised to become one of the best artists and entertainers of the year. While “F—- You” and its PG radio edit “Forget You” brought a splash of hip-hop to brighten up the summer months, the rest of the album cools down with a combination of retro soul and bubbly Motown.
The creative Atlanta-born Gnarls Barkley singer is consistent in blending haunting lyrics (“Bodies”) with poppy style (“Bright Lights City Limits,” “Satisfied”) on the record, far different than his earlier efforts. While The Lady Killer is far more dramatic, cinematic and light compared to his more gritty albums, Cee-Lo still makes a splash with a bubblegum and wit-infused record.
— Kelly Holliday