Estelle ‘Shine’: Aidin Vaziri | The story goes that Estelle Swaray met her future record-label boss, John Legend, outside of a Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n’ Waffles restaurant in Los Angeles. Seven years later, the 28-year-old West London singer delivers her staggering American debut, an impassioned collision of old-school soul, top-shelf hip-hop and major pop sparks. Kanye West, Mark Ronson and Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo Green all join in, but they keep a respectful distance as the singer tears it up on tracks such as the George Michael-quoting “No Substitute Love” and the astounding iTunes chart-topper “American Boy.” Not since “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” has there been a more surefooted, adventurous or exciting soundtrack for block parties. Rihanna can officially step aside.
Portishead ‘Third’: Aidin Vaziri | It’s hard to imagine anything darker and more turbulent than Portishead’s first two albums, genre-busting missives that spun evocative songs out of cracked film scores, loping hip-hop beats and the haunted voice of Beth Gibbons, left. Eleven years later, the British group returns with the conveniently titled “Third,” a set that is significantly more inspired than its title and static cover art suggest. The blueprint has been put through the shredder, with only Gibbons coming out the other side in recognizable shape. Nausea-inducing strings now dominate the score, which also employs primitive rhythms and spaghetti-Western guitars in songs such as “Silence” and “We Carry On.” While it’s impossible to penetrate on the first two dozen listens, you get the feeling it’s the kind of album people will be hailing as a classic after the next 11 years pass. So why not jump ahead of the line and do it now?