This is the most compelling Weeknd album since his pre-record-deal mixtapes. Which is not to say that I didn’t like his studio albums—Beauty Behind the Madness is a great record—but Starboy is an interesting evolution of an interesting musician. With the release of the two singles, “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming,” listeners hear a fresh electro-fied sound, courtesy of Daft Punk. The latter has such from-the-heart lyrics that I did a double take. Between these bookends we hear the full spectrum of what Abel Tesfaye can do. The manic pop song “False Alarm” and the rags-to-riches story on “Sidewalks,” are accompanied by groovy guitar noodling throughout and an obtuse reference-filled verse by Kendrick Lamar. There’re snippets of Daft Punk and Future throughout the album, which combine to make this a great record. And damn, that voice.
The Weeknd: “Starboy,” ft. Daft Punk
JusticeWoman(Ed Banger Records + Because Music)
Man, Justice really fucked themselves by debuting with one of the best dance records of all time. As hard as they try, they won’t make anything to rival Cross. Not that Woman is a bad album—it’s better than the disappointment of 2011’s Audio, Video, Disco. It’s just fine. It has a couple funky tunes in “Randy” and “Safe and Sound,” but otherwise it’s pretty unremarkable. Justice had live vocalists for some of this record, which they really should have used to get more impressive performances than the monotone, vocoded singing that lies buried under the instrumentals on “Fire.” None of these tracks command me to dance; at best, they’re good to put on in the background to pump yourself up for your tedious data entry job. My recommendation? Go listen to Cross again. Pretend it’s 2007: Bowie’s still alive and Bush is on the way out.
Bruno Mars24K Magic(Atlantic Records)
Prior to this album, I avoided Bruno Mars on the dumb principle of being too cool to listen to radio hits. But clearly I’m going to have to pay more attention to the dude, because 24K Magic is one of the most fun pop albums I’ve heard this year. It’s a straight shot of ‘90s nostalgia, complete with corny, fat synth lines and those twinkly chimes from every Boyz II Men song. “Versace On the Floor” is sexy-smooth, classic R&B, and “Perm” has a N.W.A.-esque beat (it even has a spoken word intro) turned into a stupid fun “girl, let your hair down” track. And the title track is pure Michael Jackson magic, contagiously danceable. Mars has the important virtue of not taking himself too seriously, and that’s what makes this album so listenable: He’s having so much fun on these songs. Listening to them, it’s hard not to feel the same way.