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Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Leonard Cohen, Alt-J 

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Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga

Cheek to Cheek

Polydor

File next to: Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett have teamed up for a collection of jazz vocal standards, and it's surprisingly strong. The surprises on Cheek to Cheek don't come from the ageless Bennett, whose voice, at 88, remains strong and supple. Rather, it's that Gaga is a superb jazz singer, with great timing and feel. Her voice blends perfectly with Bennett's, whether crooning "Nature Boy" or romping through "Anything Goes." Gaga wanted to introduce her audience to jazz and the Great American Songbook when she teamed up with Bennett. They couldn't have done it any better. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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Leonard Cohen

Popular Problems

Columbia

File next to: Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Tindersticks

Leonard Cohen made a pledge to resume smoking when he turned 80 last week. And with Popular Problems, it's clear that he's also returned to apocalyptic visions of a world gone mad, after spending a decade exploring love and senescence. Songs like "Samson in New Orleans" are less dire warnings than expressions of lament. Cohen's voice by now is a coarse bass rasp. But with careful lyrical pacing and fine arrangements, he does far more with permanent laryngitis than Bob Dylan ever did. Charlean Carman All told, it's pretty remarkable to hear an octogenarian grumpy Buddhist even finish sessions like these, let alone make them this good. — Loring Wirbel

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Alt-J

This Is All Yours

Atlantic/Warner

File next to: Foals, Bombay Bicycle Club, Fleet Foxes

Alt-J won an instant global fan base when An Awesome Wave was released in 2012, largely because of the British band's uniquely complex use of vocal stylings. Still, the band often came across as too clever, as though all the vocal tricks had no broader point. This Is All Yours is undoubtedly a more evolved and layered album, though there's still a master's thesis feel, as if the band was Fleet Foxes swimming closer to EDM. Granted, there's plenty of cool stuff going on, including Miley Cyrus sampling on "Hunger of the Pine," and an oddly phase-shifted Conor Oberst in "Warm Foothills." Decades from now, this may be considered a psychedelic masterpiece. — Loring Wirbel

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