Wiz Khalifa, "O.N.I.F.C." (Atlantic)
This is Wiz Khalifa's first non-soundtrack album since "Rolling Papers" turned him into the Crown Prince of Weed Rap. These days, Khalifa isn't only hip-hop famous -- his engagement to baby mama Amber Rose has made him TMZ famous as well. Any student of pop culture knows what comes next: the Fame Album, with its gloating, cheerless odes to bottle service and private planes. But for an MC like Khalifa, whose everyday dorkiness is part of his appeal, stardom is a left-turn into unrelatability that the frequently underperforming "O.N.I.F.C." can't overcome.
"My DNA is Givenchy," Wiz wheezes charmingly on "It's Nothin'," and then promptly runs out of insane wealth metaphors. The flatfooted "Bluffin' " ("I got so much paper / I just spend it like it's nothing") will make you fear for his 401(k). "O.N.I.F.C" (which stands for "Only [Word-We-Can't-Say] In First Class") is light on beefy hooks, preferring sleepy beats that quickly turn somnolent. Some tracks have a slippery electronic undertow, like "Remember You," Khalifa's collaboration with mysterious R&B upstart the Weeknd; it's great mostly because it sounds like a Weeknd song. Other songs employ electro-psych whirls and'70s space-age effects in place of anything substantial.
"O.N.I.F.C" also has guest turns from Akon, 2 Chainz and Rose, who shows up on the Pharrell cut "Rise Above." Best of all: Lola Monroe, who commandeers the otherwise forgettable "Initiation" like it's her best shot, which it may be.
ALLISON STEWART, WASHINGTON POST
Junkie XL, "Synthesized" (Nettwerk Music)
These days there could well be more electronic-based remixers/producers than any other type of instrumentalist, and they could all learn a few things from Junkie XL. The Dutch musician, aka Tom Holkenborg, is top pedigree, working with A-list artists including Justin Timberlake and Madonna, doing soundtrack work for such films as "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Inception" and creating music for a slew of EA video games.
His sixth album in 15 years, "Synthesized" reveals some of his keys to success: Give the audience what it wants, but better than it expects and with more variety than it would have imagined. "Synthesized" excels at the requisite primal, instrumental-oriented stirrers, such as the rousing electro-percussive "Bonzai" and the aggressive "Twilight Trippin," founded on pounding beats and wordless chants. The title track is a cheeky blend of Philip Glass and "Voulez-Vous"-era Abba that erupts into a modern juggernaut. The Dutchman recruits vocalist Isis Salam to issue a call to dancing in the insinuating drive of "Off the Dancefloor," Datarock's Fredrik proves the perfect mouthpiece for the winking heavy-metal anthem "Gloria" and Junkie XL uses a spoken-word excerpt from Timothy Leary as a counterpoint to the propulsive, full-bodied space journey "Leave Behind Your Ego."
It doesn't always work -- Tears for Fears' Curt Smith is an ill-fitting vocalist for the deep-churning "When Enough Is Not Enough" -- but "Synthesized" is often impressively riveting.
CHUCK CAMPBELL, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE