Howard and Guy Lawrence had the difficult opportunity to come up with a gigantic follow-up to the impressive debut of Settle. Caracal proved to be just right. It explores an urban galaxy of hypnotic beats, whirly synths and deep house. It's also completely surrounded by a sharp cast of vocal players (The Weeknd on “Nocturnal,” Sam Smith on “Omen,” Gregory Porter on “Holding On” and Lion Babe on the sexy, dark club “Hourglass”). Even on the album's back, Disclosure is trying to push EDM back into the pop spotlight. With the Jordan Rakei-guested “Masterpiece,” they pull off something that sounds like Justin Timberlake falling into an abyss of D'Angelo depth.

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I Love You, Honeybear
(Sup Pop)

In 2012, former Fleet Foxes drummer J. Tillman (a contributor on their lush folk masterpiece Helplessness Blues) decided to don a new alias. As Father John Misty, he airs more of his personal life and goes for totally transparent storytelling, even pokes fun at himself by airing his business (“The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.)” and cleverly mocking white folk (“Bored in the USA”). “Holy Shit,” penned on the day Tillman married his wife, even challenges the societal norm of marriage: “Love is just an institution based on human frailty/What's your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve?” But even with the juicy narratives, the music is just as alluring. “True Affection” glows like an ‘80's indie synth track haunted by outer space echoes. “When You're Smiling and Astride Me” plays like a genuine rock-meets-R&B slow jam. And “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” one of the album's biggest climaxes, is dressed up with mariachi horns, a good sign that the Fleet Foxes regimen lives on.

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Uptown Special

Mark Ronson's “Uptown Funk” was heard all around the world and probably was the only thing from Uptown Special heard. Nothing else on the UK producer/DJ's fourth disc got the greenlight treatment. What a disappointment, because it feels like a “straight masterpiece.” With the bold funk of “Daffodils,” the Chaka-styled “I Can't Lose,” a bad ass James Brown workout (“Feel Right”) and a floral chest of preludes flexing its muscles with Stevie Wonder ego (Stevie's even in on the opener and closing track), it's hard to not take Ronson seriously. He's not just a hitmaker for the stars; he's proven to be a star himself.

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Pageant Material
(Mercury Nashville)

Instead of dipping into crossover country, Nashville Star finalist Kacey Musgraves becomes one with the music of country's longstanding tradition. Her bold lyrical content may be a little ahead of its time for the casual Tennessean as she raps about “minding your own business” and “life will be gravy” on “Biscuits.” “We all wrangle with religion/We all talk but we don't listen,” she sings on the beautifully lush twang of “Somebody to Love.” On her last record she rapped about casual weed smoking on “Merry Go Round” and even hummed a tune that became an empowerment anthem for country gays (“Follow Your Arrow”). She picks up where she left off on Pageant Material , teaming up again with successful songwriters Shane McAnally, Luke Laird and Brandy Clark. She even sends a shot at Music Row politics (“Good Ol' Boys Club”). The tranquil Southern vibes, exhibited best on the worryfree album opener “High Time,” is also worth mentioning exhibited best. Her storytelling and the torch bearing allegiance to country gods like Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and George Jones remains the truth. And you can feel it when she reminds Nashville's establishment of who she really is. “You can take me out of the country/But you can't take the country out of me,” she sings on “Dime Store Cowgirl.” She may not be angering a legion of listeners on the level of Dixie Chicks, but this 27-year old country diva has some major cajones and some serious talent.

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(PaxAmericana/Blue Note)

Ryan Adams created the most respectable introduction of Taylor Swift to rock heads. For those who are baffled by her ascent to popdom or the chart-topping genre-bending 1989, Adams clearly paved the way for understanding by recreating Swift's glorified pop album into a magical ‘80's adventure ripe with New Wave currents (“Welcome to New York”), AC afterglow (“Wildest Dreams”), tranquil folk (“Blank Space,” “Out of the Woods”) and soft rock majesty (“Style”). As if The War on Drugs and Bruce Springsteen came together for a super group, 1989 actually feels more like a tribute to the year 1989 than it does Swift.

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R&B's biggest roguish crooner Miguel continued to defy the odds and bend the traditions of modern soul on Wildheart, a left-field explosion of psychedelic soul power and trippy Prince-esque rock. Radio painfully avoided this adventure since it hardly contained anything that traced the edges and corners of 2012's “Adorn,” but Miguel didn't try to imitate his precious work. Instead, he gave us adventurous rhythmic pop (“Waves”), bold street sermonizing (“What's Normal Anyway”), sexy Prince-piloted voyages (“coffee,” “FLESH”) and hypnotic Kings of Leon rock (“leaves”). This was the album Frank Ocean should've dropped after channelORANGE.

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(School boy/Interscope/604)

Three years ago, newcomer Carly Rae Jepsen dominated the scene with her bubblegum pop of “Call Me Maybe” and quickly became yesterday's news. She's still trying to fight her way back into the public eye, but Emotion, the thirty-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter sophomore LP, may have supplied Cupid's arrow to the heart. Jepsen reveals an edgier, more matured, more versatile record using an experiential pop sound decked with radio eargasms (“I Really Like You,” “Your Type”), Taylor Dayne dance-pop (“Emotion”), dreamy synthpop (“Boy Problems,” “Run Away With Pop”) and a seductive Prince-eseque slow jam (“All That”). It makes her overrated debut sound like a rushed demo.

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Sound & Color

Alabama Shakes' debut disc Boys & Girls proved to be an uneven jump start, but revealed much promise for a hefty career. On their second full length, they stepped to the plate with creative vision spread across a twelve-track adventure satisfied with beefier selections, synth-n-string explorations and a ballsy arrival into psychedelic soul turf. “Future People,” “Gimmie All Your Love” and the sexy “Gemini” are all transcendent works of art, elevating the band's status from second-tier indie rock to being the rock band of their generation.

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West End Coast

Andy Platts, the frontman of UK throwback soul band Mamas Gun, teamed up with producer Shawn Lee to create a record that sounded like careful “echoes of love” (see Doobie Brothers). The dreamy destination of yacht rock and ‘70's AM gold soul permeates across the atmosphere of this fine, well-produced collection. Those hungry for trips into Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates, Electric Light Orchestra or Steely Dan madness need to look no further. Tracks like “You Can Feel It,” “In My Pocket,” the “Baby Come Back” sounding “Distance Between Us,” the sultry grooves of “Better” and the Isaac Hayes-esque symphonic soul of “Long Way Back” are sure to satisfy.

BUY: Légère Recordings
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To Pimp a Butterfly
(Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)

The mothership landed on Kendrick Lamar's second LP and turned this motha out. This funky, fantastic voyage puts the West Coast rapper in the lineage of ‘90's hip-hop-meets-funk experiments, somewhere between OutKast, Erykah Badu and the Roots. But it's his bravado, candor, bold lyricism and experimental muse that allows this disc to soar beyond those boundaries. He masterfully experiments with jazz (“Alright”), teases with Bilal's otherworldly soul and makes it accessible (“These Walls”), and even allows funk king George Clinton to get on the groove (“Wesley's Theory”). A parade of stars fall into the setlist, but Lamar remains the feature presentation. He also performs his best sermon to date with “The Blacker the Berry,” turning up the heat on politics and explosive sociopolitical poetry in a post-Ferguson America. Bombastic and unapologetic, To Pimp a Butterfly will reign as being the There's a Riot Going On of our generation.

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