Chris Brown, Exclusive (Jive/Zomba). "Take Me Down" symbolizes Brown's eagerness to transition from kiddie-soul heartthrob to young-adult megastar; at one point, he sings, "It ain't my first time/But baby girl, we can pretend." Luckily, Brown's got the goods, effectively holding center stage despite noteworthy guests such as Kanye West and the ubiquitous T-Pain. Let this year's Usher show you to your seat. — Roberts
Katie Chastain, Firecracker (Cut Narrative). Firecracker is an utterly delightful sleeper of a record. Produced by Cinematic Underground maestro Nathan Johnson, the album is another headphone masterpiece easily on par with CU's Annasthesia. Chastain's gentle, translucent vocals are intoxicating, and every bit as captivating as Johnson's ghostly found-sound production. A stunning outing. — Dave Herrera
Levi Chen, Devocean (YinYang Records). Landing somewhere between Pink Floyd and Muzak, Levi Chen crafts thought-provoking, guitar-driven fare that incorporates myriad instruments and tonalities while exploring the far-flung and serene reaches of the mind. Pass the bong. — Nick Hutchinson
The Doors, Live at the Boston Arena (Rhino). Recorded at the start of the group's last tour with Jim Morrison, in April, 1970, these two shows are the audio equivalent of a train wreck. By this performance, Morrison had become a sad mockery of his rebellious self; you can almost hear the band unraveling between the scarce flashes of brilliance. — Brandon Daviet
Famouz, Ghetto Passport (World Jam Records). Making a rap album that has something to say and doesn't get lost in macho gangster posturing is no easy task. Just ask former NFL player Reggie Stephens, aka Famouz, who tries hard to do just that with an interesting array of samples, including David Bowie's "Fame" and Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name." — Brandon Daviet
Tusk, The Resisting Dreamer (Tortuga Recordings). Pelican mates Trevor de Brauw, Laurent Schroder-Lebec and Larry Herwig give Tusk much of its bite via their brainy yet brutal take on modern metal. Evan Patterson and Toby Driver provide effective vocal accompaniment on "The Everlasting Taste of Disguise," but "The Lewdness and Frenzy of Surrender," a sixteen-minute instrumental monolith, is the disc's knockout blow. Dream on. — Roberts
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