“Every mad genius has to make a record like this at least once in his career,” said Jon Dolan in Rolling Stone. Yeezus contains “the darkest, most extreme music” that Kanye West has ever cooked up, but the disc is also brilliant—“an extravagantly abrasive album full of pummeling minimalist hip-hop, drone-y wooz, and industrial gear-grind.” The song title “I Am a God” might mislead first-time listeners, said Ryan Dombal in Pitchfork.com. Yes, West remains, at 36, “one of pop culture’s pre-eminent egoists.” But there’s “something palpably sad,” desperate, and self-destructive about the man he presents himself to be. In Kanye’s world, being a god “sounds stressful as hell,” and the whole album is a howl into the void, “a rush of angst” from a self-flagellating soul.
2. Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend’s impressive third album “cements the band’s status as the finest indie band on the planet,” said Marlow Stern in TheDailyBeast.com. Showing new maturity and lyrical ambition, these brainy former Ivy Leaguers eschewed the “Paul Simon–esque” Afro rhythms of their previous outing, opening up their sound until the songs spread out like “a batch of elegant, fascinating musical quilts.” In many ways, “this is their Sgt. Pepper’s.” The arrangements “remain a geek’s dream,” each one stitching together an encyclopedia of borrowed sounds, from Celtic marches to rockabilly, said Mike Powell in Spin. “Like art, Vampires is dense; like pop, it seems to float in effortlessly from some place you’re sure you’ve been to.” There’s “a clarity to the music” now, the kind Paul Simon would admire.
3. Daft Punk
Random Access Memories
Daft Punk’s “bold expedition through the evolution of dance music” is far more than an exercise in nostalgia, said Chris Mincher in the A.V. Club. Sure, the French duo who helped pioneer electronic-dance music in the 1990s peppered their first album in eight years with a few disco-tinged tracks built on little more than breezy guitar riffs from Nile Rodgers of Chic. But the album’s ambition is ’70s style too, producing “a thrillingly indulgent collection” that also ventures into “down-tempo new-wave ballads and stargazing long-form synth jams.” The point, apparently, was to pillage the past to point toward a dance music of the future—one that can breathe and thrive without relying on loops, samples, and synthetic beats.
Days Are Gone
“Savvy recyclers,” the three California sisters known as Haim “make what worked yesterday work again today,” said Mikael Wood in the Los Angeles Times. Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim grew up playing in a family cover band, and on their album debut, all that exposure to the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and the Eurythmics translates into some of the freshest-sounding pop rock around. Underneath the bright guitars and “beautifully glazed keyboard textures” lie impeccably crafted songs, with swinging rhythms and effervescent melodies. The lyrics don’t add much, but at least they manage to capture the passive-aggressive indecisiveness endemic to the Haims’ 20-something generation.
5. Kacey Musgraves
Same Trailer Different Park
On the country scene, Kacey Musgraves now ranks as “one of the most dynamic new voices to come along in years,” said Grady Smith in Entertainment Weekly. This “confident, melodic” major-label debut built upon the success of Musgraves’s 2012 single, “Merry Go ’Round,” showcasing a Texas songwriter who has a singular way of “injecting humor into her most melancholic musings.” Musgraves sings about smoking pot and old flames and girls who like to kiss girls. Mostly, though, said Chris Richards in The Washington Post, this 25-year-old is “singing about what happens when a generation of idealists inherits a broken country.”
Sources:A.V. Club, The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Complex, TheDailyBeast.com, Entertainment Weekly, Mojo, New York magazine, The New York Times, NME, NPR.org, PasteMagazine.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Pitchfork.com,Portland Oregonian, Rolling Stone, Spin, Stereogum.com, Time, Vibe,and The Washington Post.