Ed Sheeran, "+" (Elecktra)
This album has been available as a popular import for under a year, but now that the time has come to release it full and proper in the States, slick-soul songsmith Sheeran couldn't just do it quietly. His "+" (as in "Plus") jumped into the Billboard Top 200 at No. 5, the highest debut for a U.K. solo artist's first full-length since 2009. The only thing more impressive is the dippy craftsmanship that got him there.
Sheeran's sound is folksy, with a good helping of soul man; heart is worn on sleeve in many lyrics. In a voice like a baby Boz Scaggs and/or a mushy Damien Rice, Sheeran, 21, riffs to his peer group about computer games, Shrek and couch surfing. Some of his debut features big-dumb-kid stuff like the treacle of "Kiss Me." Mostly, though, the album highlights the very best R&B elements of the boy-band craze from the '60s through the present with the likes of "Grade 8" and "The City" oozing new jack swing, to say nothing of its airy, contagious choruses. (Sheeran wrote or cowrote tunes on "Up All Night," the 2011 smash album by U.K. boy gods One Direction.) Better still, if that's possible, is the heartbreak beat of "The A Team," with Sheeran's effortless crooning. Swoon.
Sheeran performs Sept. 26 at the State Theatre in Minneapolis.
A.D. AMOROSI, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Wisin y Yandel, "Lideres" (Machete)
For the Puerto Rican duo Wisin y Yandel, going worldwide is a careful, short-yardage game of rhythm and language. Twelve years after they started making scrappy reggaeton records, their ninth studio album is their biggest push toward the pop mainstream.
Jennifer Lopez brought Wisin y Yandel on to the season closer of "American Idol" to promote her new bilingual collaboration with them, "Follow the Leader." It's is the lead single on "Lideres," and as a whole the record is almost mathematically balanced between gaining ground (which essentially means softening) and keeping their old, hard authority. In words and music, it's about the dance floor as much as about the bedroom. It retains just enough of their earlier music's basic rhythms -- as well as the sexual aggression -- but it's tempered with other ingredients, more so than any of their past records.
Yandel's singing has gradually grown more melodic and romantic; Wisin still raps in his nail-gun bark, but more of the time he's riding milder rhythms now.
About a third of the songs here -- including the bilingual "Follow the Leader" and "Algo Me Gusta de Ti," with a Chris Brown verse-vocal and a T-Pain rap -- are in straight four-four dance-pop rhythm, minus the lurching Antillean beat of reggaeton. Some, including "Una Bendicion" and "No Te Detengas," go in for cartoonish, woozy, saturated synthesizer tones. Parts of some tracks wouldn't be out of place on records by Pitbull, Shakira or even LMFAO. And "Vengo Acabando" is a reggaeton take on none other than Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams."
Wisin y Yandel perform with Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias on Aug. 1 at Target Center.
BEN RATLIFF, NEW YORK TIMES