Katy Perry, Witness
Electronic production and club bangers edge out guitar-laden pop tracks of yore in Katy Perry’s Witness. Perry has emerged as contemplative and reflective, but can still manage to pair thoughtful lyrics with rhythmic beats. Gone are the pre-teen confections of Teenage Dream; the pop princess now pressure-washes tracks in girl power. Perry hops genres with an eclectic array of producers and co-stars, including Brit electro phenom Jack Garratt, Hot Chip, Nicki Minaj, and house producer Duke Dumont. With the exception of Nicki Minaj and Migos collaborations on “Swish Swish” and “Bon Appétit,” no other tracks stand out with reigning Billboard potential, but Witness is a summertime sizzler nonetheless. – Sara Jayne Crow
Lady Antebellum, "Heart Break"
Out of 13 songs on the reliably country-chart-topping trio’s sixth album, three have “heart” in their titles, while “This City” balances out “Big Love in a Small Town.” The mode, more than ever, is ‘80s-style male/female adult-contemporary romance duets, of which there are plenty. The summer-at-dusk sound of “Think About You” moves perfectly into the light-on-its-feet-pulsating breakup stomper “Good To Be Alive.” And “You Look Good” is a sort of semi-funky boogie rock you might’ve overheard in 1975, on the eve of disco. But the peak, dark and quirky celebrity rehab lament “Famous,” is saved for the end.--Chuck Eddy
Phoenix, Ti Amo
At first blush, Phoenix’s Ti Amo goes down like a glass of fancy champagne: fizzy, heady, and luxuriously sensuous. The self-titled cut--sleek, purring Eurodisco tailormade for runway shows full of world renowned supermodels--really drives these qualities home. And so does “Goodbye Soleil,” future-soul laced with funk grooves smooth like silk and Daft Punk-style vocoders. Yet underneath this alluring facade lurk lyrics dipped in self-doubt and insecurity. The coolly purring “J-Boy,” for instance, has singer Thomas Mars (whose voice comes smeared in out-of-phase effects) mediating on a sinking relationship and a world turned cold and joyless. “Lovelife” is an even more telling example: what initially sounds like bubbly, carefree synth-pop gradually morphs into a heartache-stained tale of unrequited love. Rarely do bands made dark, sad music feel so intoxicating and groovy, yet Phoenix prove to be an exception. -- Justin Farrar
Rise Against, Wolves
Coming off four straight top 10 albums, Chicago’s PETA-and-straight-edge-identified melodi-core troupe spend much of their eighth ostensibly if unspecifically reacting to 2016’s presidential election: There’s a song called “Mourning In America,” for instance, and some interminable Groundhog Day frustration called “Too Many Walls,” and a rant you might abbreviate as “B.S.” that addresses political apathy. The latter slips into a ska skank, and other tracks offer hints of metal and loud U2. But mostly this is straight-up-down moshcore emo fodder, with lots of the “wo-oh-ohh-oagh”s that’ve been a Windy City staple at least since days of Naked Raygun.--Chuck Eddy
Chief Keef, "Thot Breaker"
Chief Keef’s latest mixtape finds him in a romantic mood and dripped in Auto-Tune. The Chicago rapper has evolved into a cult figure, and while he doesn’t attract as much meme attention or bemused media clickbait as Lil B, he still has an impressive amount of fans that swear by him. With Thot Breaker, they’ll get a series of aquatic sounding love songs, including a tropical-tinged track in “Can You Be My Friend.” He harmonizes on nearly every one, calls himself a “young Zac Efron” on “Couple of Coats,” and claims on “Grab a Star,” “I’ve got trust issues, I feel like Jesus,” which he pronounces like “Hay-sus.” --Mosi Reeves
SZA has an enigmatic singing style, and she fills her debut album CTRL with cryptic declarations of her inner thoughts, how the world perceives her, and her relationships. She wanders around “The Weekend” with oddly delivered lyrics and choruses. For “Drew Barrymore,” she sings, “I’m not sorry I’m not attractive/I’m sorry I’m not more ladylike/I’m sorry I don’t shave my legs at night.” SZA isn’t necessarily a “Normal Girl,” but her unique approach to electronic pop and R&B will eventually draw you in. --Mosi Reeves
Rancid, Trouble Maker
The rowdy and relentlessly boisterous Trouble Maker plays out like an overview of Rancid’s storied career to date. Over the course of the album’s 17 songs the East Bay icons touch on virtually every aspect of their sound. Listeners will encounter Clash-style shout-alongs steeped in mohawk nostalgia (“Telegraph Avenue”), blistering street punk for bruisers encased in leather and studs (“Track Fast”), maniacally pogoing ska (“Where I’m Going”) and buzzsaw hardcore shot through with gang chants (“All American Neighborhood”). Admittedly, it’s a lot of sonic terrain to cover on a single album, but thanks to producer Brett Gurewitz (of Bad Religion/Epitaph fame), Rancid unify these disparate elements with a big, thick and loud sound perfect for hard-partying punks who like to crank three-chord mayhem and smash beer bottles up against walls. Luckily for us, Rancid are showing zero desire to grow old gracefully. -- Justin Farrar
The Secret Sisters, You Don't Own Me Anymore
When Alabama’s retro-country sibling duo get gloomy on their third album — in partly yodeling-a cappella opener “Tennessee River Runs Low,” say, and the vaguely Hawaiian-lilting “The Damage” — there’s camp attached, like they’re playing gloom as a genre. The Dixieland feel of “King Cotton,” too, seems suffused in irony. But they certainly pull off the chaste Everly Brothers lonesomeness of “He’s Fine” and whistling girlhood nostalgia of “Little Again.” And between hard-times harmonies, self-medicating lullabies, a closing spiritual and the Lesley Gore-referencing title track, they show their range. Simon and Garfunkel cover “Kathy’s Song” just might be the prettiest thing here. --Chuck Eddy*