While we’re only into the second month of 2011, a number of upcoming albums promise to be huge contenders already for the year’s best. Here are five must-download records whose singles you will be hearing everywhere, any day now.
Computers & Blues
Mike Skinner scored his first hits as the Streets nearly a decade ago, when his bedroom blend of garage and hip-hop seemed poised to voice the feelings of an entire generation of youth. His sophomore album, 2004′s A Grand Don’t Come For Free, yielded the megahit “Fit But You Know It,” but his next two studio albums floundered. It seemed as if Skinner’s heart wasn’t in it any more, and this past year, he confirmed it in public interviews — the Streets was, in his heart, done. Computers & Blues will serve as the final sendoff for his alternate persona, and it remains to be seen whether Skinner will go out with a bang, or just go out.
Earth to Mars
Songwriter and solo artist Bruno Mars boasts an only-in-America biography. Born Peter Gene Hernandez, he was born to a Filipino mother and a Puerto-Rican-by-way-of-Brooklyn father, and raised in Hawaii. While Mars’ ethnic background doesn’t much inform his blend of R&B ballads and pop-rock, perhaps it has given him a sense of how best to project everyman appeal. Mars has already stolen the show by singing hooks on massive hits like B.o.B.’s “Nothin’ on You” and Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire.” Will his own standalone songs prove as equally successful?
Born in London to Punjabi Sikh parents, Jay Sean, as part of the Rishi Rich Project, was among the first millennial pop stars to bring a banghra-pop fusion style to the mainstream. While this went down well in the U.K., it mostly fell on confused ears throughout the rest of the world — until, that is, the release of his late 2009 single “Down,” which featured Lil Wayne. The song was pure R&B-inflected dance-pop, and finally won Sean the kind of global recognition he craved. However, now he’s got a lot to live up to, and for his new album, he’s promised collaborations with such pop icons as Pitbull, Nicki Minaj, and Mary J. Blige. Sean now faces the challenge of exploring new, more inclusive turf without selling out the fans who have supported him from the beginning.
With a few exceptions — Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, most notably — American TV talent competitions have failed to produce the level of stars that have emerged from their U.K. counterparts. Hoping to buck that trend is teenage singer Alexis Jordan, who first gained attention in the 2006 season of America’s Got Talent. She was eliminated from the show, but struck back by uploading cover songs to YouTube, which garnered millions of views, and eventually a record deal on Jay-Z’s StarRoc/Roc Nation label. Her debut single, “Happiness,” already burned up the global club charts, and the follow-up, “Good Girl,” seems positioned to do so as well. But will the rest of the album turn up further hits, or will it just serve as filler?
Light After Dark
Birmingham native Clare Maguire may be mentioned in the same breath as Jessie J., but that’s only because they’re both set to become the year’s biggest female pop stars. That’s about where the similarity ends, because while Jessie goes for bubblier fare, Maguire boasts a darker edge to her take on electronic pop. She also boasts one of the more unique pop singing voices in recent years, with an expressive, deeper range that recalls ’80s greats like Annie Lennox. What’s more, unlike the case of other pop tarts, Maguire penned all of her new album herself.