1. Patrick Stump - Soul Punk
My feverish anticipation of this album is finally over, and I have to say it's pretty much worth the wait. Actually, I may be starting to love this album as much as Fall Out Boy's Folie à Deux (which would be a shortlist candidate for my favorite album of the past 3 years). What really comes across on this record is not just that Stump is a dynamite vocalist or that he really went nuts playing every instrument on the record, but that he really has a whole personality and perspective that permeates every song and makes songs like "Greed" and "The 'I' In Lie" all fit together as a complete worldview. Both "Run Dry (X Heart X Fingers" and "Cryptozoology" are especially great but I wish they weren't stuffed onto the same track, they feel like very distinct separate songs to me. The bonus tracks on the deluxe version are by and large as good as anything on the proper album, and some days I wish I could swap a couple songs out for "Bad Side of 25" or "Love, Selfish Love" from the Truant Wave EP for an ideal version of the album, but in any event this whole project is just my shit right now.
2. Craig Wedren - Wand
Before Stump, Shudder To Think's Craig Wedren was the guy with the best voice in modern rock and some wild genre-defying solo work, so it's been fun to have a good new record from him this month too. I wasn't sure what to really expect from this album and in a pleasant surprise it's kind of a fast, fun tour of all the things he does well: hooky hard rock, weird synth and drum machine experiments, jangly pop, gentle acoustic tracks, all kind of ping ponging around in this really confident, comfortable way that only a guy who can do this many things this well for this long can pull off. It's almost a little hard to really get into as an album, because as soon as I really enjoy a song like "I Know" or "Make Me Hurt You" it switches gears into something different and equally good, but that's a small complaint.
3. Styles P. - Master of Ceremonies
Styles has been such a consistent, underrated rapper with album after solid album the last few years that I always have to just give him props, even if there is something undeniably workmanlike (in all the good and bad ways) and low stakes about his records that makes it hard to hail any of them as a masterpiece. This one has more high profile guests than usual, but only the Busta/Rick Ross song feels like an unnecessary capitulation to starpower, and Styles still defines his surroundings and makes sure his hardnosed sensibility comes across in every beat and hook.
4. My Brightest Diamond - All Things Will Unwind
There's a lot of talent and energy and ideas flying around on My Brightest Diamond albums, but I think the first two, especially the first, were a little more my speed. When this stuff is a little darker and moodier, it sounds fantastic, but when Shara Worden goes lighter and more clever, as on the first few tracks of All Things Will Unwind, she just comes off a little too whimsical and impressed with herself. But then it gets to something kind of epic and dramatic like "Be Brave" and I'm back on board.
5. Kelly Clarkson - Stronger
Earlier this year when Kelly Clarkson appeared on Jason Aldean's "Don't You Wanna Stay?" I said "If this signals that Kelly is finally going for the inevitable, commercially shrewd move toward country, then good for her, she sounds fantastic doing this kind of stuff." I was wrong, and listening to Stronger, I kinda wish I wasn't, because this feels like diminishing returns and more of the same to an even greater extent than All I Ever Wanted, Kelly sticking to her increasingly familiar wheelhouse but not trying as hard to squeeze a hit out of her sound as it quickly goes out of vogue. The trio of Greg Kurstin productions early in the album is pretty good and it's fun to hear his The Bird And The Bee sounds applied to something bigger and more bombastic, but most of the album is kind of stuck in a generic Kelly Clarkson holding pattern than even Ester Dean and Rodney Jerkins don't really break out of. "You Can't Win" and the bonus track "Don't Be A Girl About It" have so much more personality and attitude than boring old "Mr. Know It All."
"You Can't Win" is this great bitter little song at the end of the album