The short version:
Kelly Clarkson—Breakaway: 6/10
Blue Stone—Breathe: 6/10
Cage the Elephant—Thank You Happy Birthday: 2/10
P!nk—Try This: 3/10
The Roots and John Legend—Wake Up!: 4/10
Kate Havnevik—Melankton: 6/10
Justin Timberlake—Justified: 5/10
Xploding Plastix—Devious Dan EP: 7/10
I'm not really hip with these American Idols and the Glees so I was a good half a decade behind on hearing Kelly Clarkson's Breakaway. I think it's decent; it's a pretty standard female pop-rock affair, heavier on the rock aspect than I was really expecting. The voice and style remind me more of Evanescence than I assumed it would. There's nothing outstanding on the disc but there are no terrible tracks either. I like Since U Been Gone, Gone, and Hear Me.
Breathe by Blue Stone is a pretty acceptable new age instrumental CD. A little bit above average. The musical style is utterly unremarkable and it's one of a thousand CDs from which you should shuffle the tracks together and nobody would notice. But it's pretty and soothing and nice to listen to. Traveler is the best track on the disc, and New Beginning is a pretty piano piece, and Forgiven is rather relaxing.
Thank You Happy Birthday is not a present for anyone. I rather enjoyed the debut CD from Cage the Elephant (the Borderlands theme song guys, if you recall); it was rough and intense and interesting. Their second CD is awful, one of the worst albums I've bought recently. The opening track Always Something is actually pretty decent, and Shake Me Down isn't bad either. The rest is all atonal, messy nonsense. Just so you don't listen to those two tracks and think to yourself that you should buy this CD, let me just link to Sell Yourself so you can get that idea out of your head quickly.
P!nk's Try This kinda sucks too. Certainly not as much as Thank You Happy Birthday but there's not much more to like on this one either. The whole album sounds just sort of boring and unrefined, like a subpar debut or a rushed sophomore slump. God Is a DJ is the best single on the CD, and Last to Know and Humble Neighborhoods are both okay, and that's just about it. Not worth owning at all.
The Roots and John Legend got together for a full-length album not long ago, Wake Up!, and it fits in that weird little corner of music that's decent but I still don't really want to listen to it. The opening track Hard Times is the best, and Little Ghetto Boy and Our Generation are the next two. None of the other tracks are all that special as far as I'm concerned, and there are a few that I just don't like at all.
I don't remember where I heard about Kate Havnevik or her first album Melankton, but it's not bad. Prolific electronic composer Guy Sigsworth (the non-Imogen Heap half of Frou Frou, and producer on many of the albums I own) provides the background for the CD, and does a fine job, though a lot of the tracks aren't super interesting. (If you've heard enough of his music there are several songs on here that you can immediately recognize as his thanks to that signature synthesizer he uses all the time.) Kate's voice is pretty but it seems a little too weak sometimes. It's sort of like what would happen if Enya got a drum machine. The (maddeningly mispronounced) Kaleidoscope is easily the best track, and Suckerlove is pretty good too. Travel in Time is probably third-place.
I also picked up Justin Timberlake's solo debut, Justified. As is the case for way too many CDs in this batch, it's merely decent. Rock Your Body is a great dance pop song, but the rest of the album is not up to par. Like I Love You is pretty decent, and Señorita gets some bonus points for being rather funny toward the end. Still not something that I'm really certain one needs to own, but I'm not too ashamed that I have a copy.
I picked up the terribly creatively named LP3 and LP4 by Ratatat to round out my collection, and their music has gotten increasingly better since the beginning. The basic style of instrumental songs focusing on an electric guitar and synthesizers is the same, but the later albums have become more and more varied and intriguing. Drugs and Bare Feast from LP4 are both a lot of fun to listen to, and Shempi and Falcon Jab from LP3 are cool too.
Finally, I resolved to purchase the digital-only Devious Dan EP by Xploding Plastix after hearing the first track, The Coma That Failed. It's long and it's mostly percussion and it sounds fantastic played loud, and I love how it builds up over the course of nine-minutes-plus. Pretend You Owe Me Nothing is great too. The CD was introduced as being similar in style to Amon Tobin's older music and I completely agree; Tobin's last two CDs have been lacking, and this EP is just what I was looking for. I'll definitely be checking out more from this guy.