Mumford & Sons -- Babel
If you listen to just one of their songs, Mumford & Sons sounds like one of the freshest, best new bands in recent memory. They have great voices and harmonies, they strum powerfully on their guitars, and they erupt in a huge crescendo of emotion and yelling that you just want to start slapping a drum along with them. But the pattern that makes one great song on its own can make for a slog of an album, where every song follows this formula: Quiet fingerpicking, light singing, chorus with full harmony, explosion of instrumentation/yelling, a verse kept up at that level, silencing of instruments, and then a climax louder than anything coming before it. When you listen to the songs back-to-back, none of them really stand out except the opening title track, which switches up the Mumford formula and stays at a high level the entire time. The album needs a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" (a track tailor-made for Mumford & Sons) just to surprise the listener with something that he knows will have a structurally different sonic contour than the rest of the album.
If you had to have three: "Babel," "Holland Road," "The Boxer."
Carly Rae Jepsen -- Kiss
Carly Rae Jepsen is so annoying. She's annoyingly attractive. Her video for "Call Me Maybe" was annoyingly clever. But the most
If you had to have three: "Call Me Maybe" (if you don't already have this... jeez), "Turn Me Up," "Hurt So Good."
Freddie Gibbs -- Baby Face Killa
Since releasing his modern-day classic mixtape midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik in 2009, Freddie Gibbs has established himself as a rapper with few (if any) flaws. Possessing the best flow in the game right now, Gibbs has also gotten respect for depicting the grimy, not-so-glamorous street and drug culture of his hometown, Gary, Ind. His new mixtape, Baby Face Killa, doesn't quite match up to his best work, but showcases what Gibbs does best: Gangsta rap. Finally, he does a song ("Kush Cloud") with a member of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, the melodic, rapid-fire, drug-fueled group that has clearly influenced him so much. Biggest problem with this project: The hooks. The rapping's top notch, but Gibbs, a guy who's been able to create good rapping hooks without having a great singing voice, falters here, with a lot of hooks that are just him repeating the song name over and over again. But then there's the hook on "Go For It," which might be the most outlandish and misogynistic song he's ever done -- and that's saying something. If you like good, hard gangsta rap, nobody does it better than Freddie Gibbs, so check it out (it's free!).
If you had to have three: "Kush Cloud," "Tell a Friend," "Stay Down."
Follow Peter McQuaid on Twitter @sweetestpete.