The Weeknd, “Beauty Behind the Madness” (XO/Republic): Pop cleanup jobs don’t come any more satisfying than this one by the once-shadowy R&B auteur, whose flashy new collaborators only make him seem more twisted.
Kacey Musgraves, “Pageant Material” (Mercury Nashville): Many expected the outspoken country singer to go rogue on the follow-up to her hit debut. But “Pageant Material” turned out to be something smaller and more poignant: an adventurer’s tribute to the comforts of home.
Troye Sivan, “Blue Neighbourhood” (Capitol): First known as a chatty YouTube personality, Sivan arrives on his debut album as a fully formed — and radically sincere — electro-pop diarist.
Cécile McLorin Salvant, “For One to Love” (Mack Avenue): This young jazz singer broke out several years ago with her smart, showy interpretations of durable standards and obscure curios. But here she’s most impressive in her deeply felt originals, which show off the haunted quiet side of her powerful voice.
Jeff Lynne’s ELO, “Alone in the Universe” (Columbia): Eager, perhaps, to show up the hip indie rockers who’ve embraced his colorful psych-pop vision, ELO’s mastermind returns to active duty with his craftiest, catchiest songs in decades.
Adele, “25" (XL/Columbia): It was too big to fail, and so of course it didn’t. But with vivid production and songs about her life as a new parent, Adele’s latest blockbuster felt as much like a personal statement as an exercise in brand management.
Brandon Flowers, “The Desired Effect” (Island): In a year full of shallow ‘80s revivalism, the Killers frontman got real emotional depth out of those processed drums and Bruce Hornsby-style piano licks (played in this case by Hornsby himself).
One Direction, “Made in the A.M.” (Syco/Columbia): The boy band’s farewell before a hiatus that’s likely to be permanent, “Made in the A.M.” combines soppy goodbye songs with loose, lighthearted moments that demonstrate just how much One Direction will be missed.