Even though Night Visions has several repackaged tunes from Imagine Dragons' previous EPs, including the instantly appealing breakthrough hit "It's Time," the band's debut LP is a confident, commercially savvy collection of energetic hooks, crunchy electro beats and glossy synthesizers. With sweeping choruses and booming bass, it's big-sounding party rock, but the savvy, kitchen-sink production of Alex da Kid makes other would-be singles like "Bleeding Out" and "Tiptoe" as interesting as they are overwhelming. Even though under all the layers there are occasionally pockets of pure cheese ("With the beast inside, there's nowhere we can hide," Dan Reynolds sings on "Demons"), the scope of the band's full-length debut leaves a big impression.
Nate Cavalieri, Google Play
As a songwriter for other contemporary pop stars, Ryan Tedder has proven his talent for writing intensely catchy songs that stick in people's heads. This is evidenced not only by his success producing songs for such artists as Adele, Leona Lewis, and Maroon 5, but also with his own band OneRepublic. And as with 2006's Dreaming Out Loud and 2009's Waking Up, One Republic's 2013 third studio album, Native, once again gives Tedder a vehicle to turn his hitmaking abilities on himself, and in the process, steal just a little bit of the spotlight away from his more recognizable clients. And why shouldn't he? Tedder has a burnished, resonant singing voice and passionate, emotive vocal style that's perfectly suited for the uplifting crossover songs he so expertly writes. In many ways, OneRepublic are a clearing house for mainstream pop sensibilities, and Native is no exception, with songs such as "If I Lose Myself Again," "I Lived," and "Au Revoir," touching upon the soaring, piano-driven alt-rock of Coldplay, the funky, synthetic, blue-eyed-soul of Maroon 5, and the slick yet earnest R&B balladry of any number of modern divas. Which isn't to say that the songs on Native are unremarkable. On the contrary, Tedder reveals a broad palette of stylistic inspiration, and cuts like the roiling, romantic "Light It Up" and the atmospheric and yearning "Can't Stop" touch upon the ruminative qualities of indie rock, the falsetto-heavy tones of Prince-styled lead vocals, and the wide-eyed drama of '80s Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. Elsewhere on Native, tracks like "Counting Starts" reveal that Tedder has clearly been listening to the British folk-rockers Mumford & Sons and, as evidenced by the percussive operatic of "Feel Again," Florence and the Machine. Of course, with Tedder having possibly worked with any one of the artists mentioned here prior to recording Native, one could argue that he's merely been listening to his own music. Ultimately, that music, as heard on Native, remains as catchy as ever.
Matt Collar, Rovi
The Neighbourhood's debut album, I Love You, is equal parts stadium-sized indie rock and slick electronic pop with a little bit of contemporary R&B thrown in. In other words, it has everything it takes to appeal to a fan of modern pop music in 2013. Especially if that fan is into Maroon 5 and Coldplay, because a large percentage of the album sounds like Adam Levine fronting that band as they turn out one widescreen midtempo ballad after another. Adding some light to the mood are the moments when the band switches up the tempo or scales back on the large-scale arrangements. "Sweater Weather"'s stripped-down verses and almost funky beats add a little sunshine to the sound and Jesse Rutherford sounds more at home bopping along to the rhythms.
Tim Sendra, Rovi
Early on in Save Rock and Roll, Patrick Stump sings he'll change you like a remix then raise you like a phoenix, words written, as always, by Pete Wentz, and sentiments that place this 2013 Fall Out Boy comeback in some kind of perspective. After the absurdly ambitious 2008 LP Folie à Deux, the band expanded and imploded, winding up in a pseudo-retirement where Stump released an inspired but confused solo record while Wentz pursued Black Cards, a band that went nowhere. Failure has a way of reuniting wayward souls, and so Stump, Wentz, Joe Trohman, and Andy Hurley all settled their differences and cut Save Rock and Roll, an album that acts like Fall Out Boy never went away while simultaneously acknowledging every trend of the last five years. Alone among their peers, Fall Out Boy are always acutely conscious of what's on the charts, not limiting themselves to the brickwalled blast of modern rock but also dipping into the crystalline shimmer of R&B and even sending up the folk stomp of Mumford & Sons on "Young Volcanoes." One of great things about Fall Out Boy -- the thing that's infuriating and intoxicating in equal measure -- is that it's difficult to discern where their sincerity ends and their parody begins. That's particularly true of Save Rock and Roll, where the group is negotiating its rapidly approaching maturity along with the fashions of the time. They're not entirely successful, partially because they rely on their trusty emo onslaught of unmodulated chords and emotions, partially because there still is a lingering suspicion that they may not truly believe anything they sing. Nevertheless, they're ambitious, admirable, and sometimes thrilling, particularly because the group never fears to tread into treacherous waters, happy to blur the distinctions between pop and rock, mainstream and underground. They bring in Courtney Love to snarl like it's 1993, they have Elton John act like the grand dame he is, but neither overshadows the group's intoxicatingly smeary stance on what rock & roll is. They're not traditionalists -- they're not about three chords and the truth, they're about misdirection and hiding their emotions, then letting it all spill out in one headstrong rush. In 2013, when so many bands are donning tweed caps and pining for a past that never existed, it's kind of fun to have a band tackle the modern world in all its mess as Fall Out Boy do here.