Trey Songz, "Chapter V" (Atlantic)
Other than that lustrous tenor voice, the nicest thing about R&B crooner Songz is that he gets better with age. Though not flashy, each album since his 2005 debut shows Songz getting rougher around the edges, a little freakier and more willing to face down top-notch guest rappers.
The freak-a-deak side of Songz is satisfied by the panting "Panty Wetter" and the racy, racing club-a-dub "2 Reasons." An unnecessarily Auto-Tuned Songz finds G-rated humanity between grumbling MC Young Jeezy and the overplayed growl of Lil Wayne on the rudely click-clacking "Hail Mary" (rappers T.I., Rick Ross and Diddy are littered throughout this CD, for better or worse). Songz does best when he goes it alone while keeping slow and low-down. The beeping, laid-back "Heart Attack" is a handsome showcase for the singer's sultry vocals, as is "Simply Amazing," which finds Songz and his paramour lost under the covers with a subtle melody line and a slinky beat to warm them.
A.D. AMOROSI, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Tamia, "Beautiful Surprise" (Plus 1)
"Beautiful Surprise" is her first album of new material in six years, and it's wisely out of step with her surroundings, even if not always successfully so. There are club tracks that nod at the dance floor while never really stepping out onto it. Of these, the title track hits hardest.
Too often on this album Tamia, 37, undermines herself and pulls back from her biggest notes, though not on "Still Love You," a limp number that she trumps with power.
The true highlights are the left turns. "Still" is a country update of her 2004 hit. It trumps the original, with a mature, soothing arrangement that matches the song's celebration of a love that goes on and on. The most striking song here is also the most modest. "Because of You" is a praise song through and through: not of a lover, but of a higher power. Tamia does her crispest, most straightforward singing here.
JON CARAMANICA, NEW YORK TIMES
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, "Mature Themes" (4AD)
"Step into my time warp now," Ariel Pink sings on "Is This the Best Spot?" That time warp leads directly to a phantasmagoric mishmash of 1970s radio memories, both FM and AM, that is as indebted to Frank Zappa as it is to Hall & Oates, to Sparks as to Gary Numan, to Brian Eno as to Curtis Mayfield.
The album whiplashes among styles, from goofy ephemera (with proudly immature themes) such as the trudging, distorted "Schnitzel Boogie" and the synth-pop-meets-spaghetti-western "Symphony of the Nymph" to catchy, irresistible keepers such as the shimmering, harmony-rich "Only in My Dreams" and the slinky, soulful "Baby." Pink has left behind his lo-fi roots, but he hasn't abandoned his unpredictability. Coherent it's not: It's head-scratchingly diverse and worth exploring. Pink performs Sept. 22 at the Fine Line in Minneapolis.
STEVE KLINGE, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER