Adele / 25

When Adele hit the mainstream scene, I liked her. I thought she was a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice, but she didn’t strike that “wow” chord with me initially. She won a few (OK, more than a few) Grammys, and I made the assumption that she was a one-trick pony. Again, I liked her … I just didn’t love her. There was something missing for me.

I started changing my tune when I heard “Skyfall” for the first time. The unexpected and sultry, strong notes made my eardrums dance. It was the first of her songs that did that for me. It’s not an easy song to sing, and she owned it. Respect.

Now, after a brief hiatus, the woman comes out with an album that has stopped me dead in my tracks, forcing me to admit the extent of my wrongness. This has skyrocketed to one of my favorite albums of all-time list. The radio-hit song “Hello” made me tear up with emotion. It made me want to listen to the rest immediately … and I fell in love with Adele.

This album shows us every inner working: every note in her range, every dynamic of whisper to belt, and it’s an audible baring of the soul behind the artist. It is raw and unadulterated. There is not one song on the record I don’t like. My favorite, though, is “When We Were Young”, which she recently performed on Saturday Night Live brilliantly. This song floored me, and every time I hear it, I am amazed all over again.

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By Jennifer Russo

Ellie GouldingEllie Goulding / Delirium

You know how you passively listen to songs on the radio, Spotify or a Pandora shuffle, and you’re only sort of paying attention, but then, a song comes on and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s kinda my jam.” That’s Ellie Goulding. She’s never gotten the recognition she deserves, but you still know that song. With the artist’s third album, Delirium, people may begin to pay attention … although it may be for all the wrong reasons.

“Love Me Like You Do” is just the first of many songs on Delirium that you’ve undoubtedly heard, even if you never knew who it was that sang it (thanks, Fifty Shades of Grey). “Something In The Way You Move” is playing clubs now, remixed and not, and it goes to show how much of this album feels like a play at making a true pop(ular) album by standards that are not the artist’s alone. Not to discount what Goulding and her team of producers have done here, but Goulding’s music used to fill a void and challenge conventions with her melded EDM and folk-art beats. On Delirium, she feels somehow boxed in, and despite that gorgeous voice, she sounds like, well, almost everybody else in pop (take the catchy but forgettable “On My Mind,” for instance).

Nonetheless, it is a big joyful pop album – 16 tracks in the basic edition and a whopping 25 tracks on the deluxe format – but Goulding has lost some of her Halcyon Nights swagger, and her Lights have been dimmed by too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen looking to please the masses.

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By Mike Wood

ClutchClutch / Psychic Warfare

Recorded in Texas, Maryland-based Clutch’s 11th studio album, Psychic Warfare, is clearly a product of its environment. For a band that has been around for as long as Clutch has, one wouldn’t expect them to come out with the fiery bravado and tenacity that they do here. But on their newest effort, the members of Clutch stray from slowing down and keep up an impressive jolt of energy from beginning to almost the end.

Psychic Warfare really catches that free-spirited and carefree attitude that makes rock music the rebellious genre it is meant to be. That’s not to say that Neil Fallon’s lyrics don’t get heavy and social at times, but there is a definite freedom that comes through in their performance. Songs like “Firebirds” and the opening “X-Ray Visions” burn and churn with an open-range kick of adrenaline. “A Quick Death in Texas” chronicles the self-inflicted struggles its narrator faces following some shenanigans, giving the album a classic outlaw-on-the-run number that is befitting of the grandiose state in which it was produced. The most telling, however, is the mid-album breather and appropriately titled instrumental “Doom Saloon” that segues into the seductively dark cowboy jaunt of “Our Lady of Electric Light.”

When they reach the finish line in the sprint they’ve set up for themselves, Clutch sounds somewhat winded. But this is a minute detail. In contrast, for a band that makes good use of the cowbell like they do on the song “Your Love is Incarceration,” you know they’re doing something right and giving the people what they want.

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By Jason Savio