The short version:
Stacie Orrico—Stacie Orrico: 5/10
Mike Morasky—Portal: 3/10
Mike Morasky—Portal 2: 6/10
Icona Pop—Iconic EP: 8/10
Tegan and Sara—Heartthrob: 7/10
AWOLNATION—Red Bull Editions: hey, it's free
fun.—Selections and B-sides from Aim and Ignite: hey, it's free
I stumbled across Stacie Orrico's self-titled album in my music folder, which I don't really remember buying, but I had heard a couple of her songs in college and they were okay, and you can get the CD new on Amazon for four bucks, so I guess it seemed pretty low-risk. Low-risk is probably a good way to describe it I guess. It's mostly bland pop; there are a few catchy tunes and some pretty awful tracks and it's absolutely unessential. I Could Be the One is the best, followed by More to Life.
The whole Portal 2 soundtrack was released as a gargantuan free download, which was awfully nice. If you haven't played the game, Portal 2 has a strange soundtrack. It's extremely synthetic-sounding, which fits the game and builds tension, and while in the game it has a cute sort of atmospheric charm, heard on its own it becomes painfully clear how obnoxious-sounding most of it is out of context. A great example of something that is nearly impossible to listen to is Die Cut Laser Dance. In the game that would have probably fit just fine as you're flying through space and lasers are firing at you and you're not sure if you're going to fall to your death or successfully evade the trap, but as background music while surfing Facebook it makes you want to die. On the other hand, it's a huge soundtrack, and there are actually quite a few awesome tracks. Bombs for Throwing at You is one of my favorite video game final boss battle tunes and it's absolutely nerve-wracking in a weirdly pleasant way, but it's definitely stretching the limits of soundtrack tunes that you'd ever want to listen to outside its original context. You Will Be Perfect is pretty great too, and I'm not sure where it's from, but it's catchy, and one of the least annoying tracks in the set. And the opening track Science Is Fun is cool too. Anyway, you can download the three-volume soundtrack for free from the Portal website. The original Portal soundtrack is much worse and the only worthwhile thing at all on it is the now-famous Jonathan Coulton song Still Alive.
I found out about Icona Pop because Chiddy Bang sampled their song Manners, and they've finally got an EP out now. The Iconic EP is pretty excellent for a debut. There are no bad tracks out of the six, and three are wonderful: I Love It is aptly named and full of energy, Manners is catchy and weird, and Sun Goes Down is interesting. Some people have a pretty negative reaction to either the two girls' tendency to yell, or the quirky instrumentals, but I think that if you enjoy electro-pop you need to check them out.
Tegan and Sara's new album Heartthrob didn't really catch me at first. I really liked the first single Closer, but the rest didn't really excite me so I ignored it. Then Amazon had it for super cheap so I picked it up after all given that I was going to pick up the Closer single anyway, and it's really grown on me since then. The whole album has a fun 80s vibe to it while still sounding fresh. How Come You Don't Want Me is a strong second-place, and Shock to Your System probably is third-place. But just about every track is pretty strong, and I think that if it had one more song that I thought qualified as "great" I'd give it an 8/10, but it's still worth checking out.
AWOLNATION had a free download called Red Bull Editions that has a few decent remixes. I wouldn't pay for it, but luckily no one asked me to. fun. also released a free download called Selections and B-sides from Aim and Ignite and I feel sort of similarly about it. It does contain All the Pretty Girls which is one of my favorite tracks off their first album, but I already had that. Both are worth picking up if you're a fan of the respective bands and not if you aren't.