Frank Ocean – Channel Orange: Having worked with some of the biggest artists in the biz, Frank had a lot of buzz to live up to on his debut album. And he did just that. Channel Orange is everything we could have hoped for, and the boatload of Grammy nominations it’s garnered is everything Frank deserves.
4 Tracks You Need To Know: Super Rich Kids, Bad Religion, Pink Matter, Pyramids
Ed Sheeran – + (Plus): Ed’s album was originally released in 2011 overseas, but last year American’s finally got the chance to hear what all the fuss was about. The fuss (in the form of critical acclaim and screaming fans) was definitely warranted as this soulful set won us–and anyone who’s listened to it–completely over.
4 Tracks You Need To Know: The A Team, Wake Me Up, Give Me Love, Small Bump
Carrie Underwood – Blown Away: Carrie’s got a mixed bag of treats on her fifth album. She mixes her signature country sound with rock, pop, and even reggae. Through it all — ballads and up-tempos — her voice remains as pristine and gorgeous as ever.
4 Tracks You Need To Know: Blown Away, Two Black Cadillacs, One Way Ticket, Wine After Whiskey
Chris Brown – Fortune: Chris gives away a lot of free music (like, a lot) but his best work always appears on his albums. “Fortune,” the follow-up to his 2011 release “F.A.M.E.,” was no exception. While it’s not the most cohesive set he’s done, it definitely includes some real winners and showcases Breezy as a vocalist more than any other album/mixtape he’s done since “Exclusive.”
4 Tracks You Need To Know: Stuck On Stupid, Mirage, Bassline, 2012
Justin Bieber – Believe: Try as we might, we couldn’t deny the Bieber fever once we heard Believe. From the Jackson 5 nod “Die In Your Arms,” the synthtastic collab with Nicki Minaj, “Beauty And The Beat,” and the smooth R&B-leaning pop of “Right Here” with fellow Canadian sensation Drake, Bieber’s coming-of-age set is filled with winning moments.
4 Tracks You Need To Know: Die In Your Arms, As Long As You Love Me (featuring Big Sean), Thought Of You, Right Here (featuring Drake)
Maroon 5 – Overexposed: Infectious beats and Adam Levine’s distinctive vocals fill this album jammed with nothing but pop gems. Between the beautiful ballads like “Sad” and dancefloor-ready tunes like “Lucky Strike,” there’s something for everybody on M5’s latest set.
4 Tracks You Need To Know: Lucky Strike, Sad, Love Somebody, Beautiful Goodbye
2 Chainz – Based On A T.R.U. Story: There’s a reason why all of your favorite rappers called on 2 Chainz for a feature last year. Every verse he delivers is memorable. The self-proclaimed hair weave killer filled his highly-anticipated solo debut with more unforgettable verses and collaborations by some rap heavyweights, like Drake, Kanye West, and Nicki Minaj.
4 Tracks You Need To Know: No Lie (featuring Drake), Birthday Song (featuring Kanye West), I’m Different, Money Machine
Lana Del Rey – Born To Die: Her Saturday Night Live debut was not a shining moment and possibly one of the worst ways to head into an album release but the work speaks for its self. Lana’s “Born To Die” helped to erase the bad taste left in everyone’s mouth after the SNL debacle and the flawless music videos that would accompany the album’s singles made her one of the best artists introduced to the masses last year.
4 Tracks You Need To Know: Off To The Races, Video Games, National Anthem, Diet Mountain Dew
Bruno Mars – Unorthodox Jukebox: Sophomore slump? Not for Bruno Mars. Thanks to his seamless blend of retro and modern sounds, honest songwriting, and sinfully smooth vocals, Bruno’s second album is a huge hit already and easily one of the best of the year.
4 Tracks You Need To Know: Young Girls, Gorillas, Show Me, When I Was Your Man