The short version:
Marina and the Diamonds—Electra Heart: 8/10
Lucy Schwartz—Timekeeper: 5/10
Serena Ryder—Harmony: 6/10
Sara Bareilles—The Blessed Unrest: 5/10
Ellie Goulding—Halcyon Days: 8/10
Katy Perry—Prism: 7/10
Lady Gaga—Artpop: 6/10
Mark Ronson—Here Comes the Fuzz: 7/10
Various artists—The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: 6/10
The Weeknd—Kiss Land: 7/10
Sam Sparro—Return to Paradise: 7/10
Vince de Vera and Jason Garner—Shank: 3/10
The second album from Marina and the Diamonds, Electra Heart, is some pretty solid dance-y pop music. The standout track Primadonna is happy and catchy and fun, and Home-wrecker's odd but well-crafted. Not all of the songs are as upbeat—Teen Idle is much slower-paced and introspective. Overall it's definitely worth a listen; nothing on the album is bad, and it's varied and pleasant to listen to.
The song Boomerang from Timekeeper by Lucy Schwartz plays during the end credits for season 4 of Arrested Development, and once I heard it I immediately had to know more. It's infectiously wonderful, which unfortunately isn't representative of the rest of the album. The opening track Ghost in My House is also quite good, and Curse is pretty decent too. Most of the rest is merely okay, and there are a couple tracks that force me to look for the skip track button. Those first few songs are absolutely worth checking out, but the rest wasn't quite what I was hoping for.
I heard Serena Ryder because she toured with OneRepublic and opened for their fantastic concert last summer at a winery out here. Her album Harmony has a bunch of good stuff on it, but it's not all great. For You is sultry and Bond-ish, Stompa has a sort of badass chick vibe, and What I Wouldn't Do is charming. Worth checking out, but I don't know who in particular I'd recommend it to.
Sara Bareilles also opened for OneRepublic at the same concert, a bit drunk, but none the worse for it. Her latest album The Blessed Unrest is not my favorite; it's mostly just pretty bland. The opening track and single Brave is good but not spectacular, and unfortunately it's the best song on there. 1000 Times and Little Black Dress are probably the best after that. I don't really recommend the album.
Ellie Goulding's Halcyon Days is another one of those obnoxious deals where a one-CD album gets re-released as a two-CD set, but luckily I didn't already have Halcyon. (See also: Lady Gaga's The Fame and The Fame Monster.) If both halves are new to you, it's a pretty great deal for 28 songs, almost all of which are good. The best is Lights, which is an amazing song but a bit odd since it's from multiple albums ago, so it doesn't count. Don't Say a Word and Only You from the first CD (Halcyon) are quite good, and Hearts Without Chains from the second CD (Halcyon Days) is as well. Not one out of 28 tracks is bad, and though only a few are better than just "good," it's varied and interesting and a good deal. Recommended.
Katy Perry's latest album Prism grew on me. I wasn't too thrilled at first, but I started to like it more, and while the sound is pretty similar to her previous record, this one's solid too. The best track is near the end, Spiritual, a nice little dark pop track. This Is How We Do is pretty fun even though the lyrics are pretty annoying, and after that it's hard to pick a third, but probably International Smile. If you liked Katy Perry's previous CDs you'll like this one too.
Even though I'm not as crazy about Lady Gaga as the other gays seem to be, Artpop is still a letdown. A lot of the songs seem like they're weird for the sake of being weird, and just about all of them show potential but just don't sound great. After a weak twelve minutes, the unfortunately-named Sexxx Dreams is definitely good, with an especially awesome refrain. Then after that the album launches into Jewels n' Drugs which is so embarrassingly horrible that if you'd told me it was intentionally awful and recorded as a joke for her Saturday Night Live appearance, I'd totally have believed you. Do What U Want featuring R. Kelly tries its best to make up for the agony inflicted, and it's a very solid pop+R&B mashup track. And Fashion! is just sort of silly fun. Overall, Jewels n' Drugs is the only bad track, but plenty of the disc is just okay, which makes it the worst of hers so far.
Mark Ronson's Here Comes the Fuzz was a random surprise I stumbled across (after finding his cover of Britney Spears's Toxic, if you must know), and I'm glad I did. There's a variety of styles (though mostly hip-hop) and it's well-produced though some of the songs are pretty repetitive. Ooh Wee featuring Ghostface Killah, Nate Dogg, and Trife; and Diduntdidunt featuring Saigon are both excellent rap tracks, and I Suck featuring Rivers Cuomo of Weezer is just a silly dance track. There are a couple other good ones, and no duds. Recommended if you're into dance-friendly pop/rap mashups.
I got the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack for three standout, excellent tracks: Sia, The Weeknd, and Diplo's Elastic Heart, Coldplay's Atlas, and Who We Are by Imagine Dragons. Beyond those three, there are a lot of tracks that aren't that noteworthy, which seems to be the theme of the past few months. It's not bad, but I wouldn't recommend the soundtrack; I'd just suggest picking up those three fantastic singles.
The Weeknd has a new album out, Kiss Land, and just to be weird the best tracks are at the end and the one with the guest artist (Drake) is the worst track on the disc. This is another CD that grew on me; I didn't really like it to start other than my favorite track Adaptation, but I came to really appreciate the title track and Tears in the Rain as well. It's not strikingly different from his previous three-CD debut, but it's solid electronic R&B.
I just knew Sam Sparro from a Basement Jaxx song I really like, Feelings Gone, but I decided to check out his solo music and was pleasantly surprised. His album Return to Paradise has two great songs, I Wish I Never Met You (featuring one of the most revolting rhymes I've ever heard: crackhead/blackhead) and Hearts Like Us. Shades of Grey is also strong song, a little calmer. Recommended if you're interested in the disco feel of most of the CD.
Finally, another soundtrack to a game I haven't played, Shank. It sounds a lot like the modern-western-ish Terran music from Starcraft, except not as good. Most of it isn't noteworthy at all, and while it's probably fitting for the game, there's no particular reason to seek it out if you haven't played the game.