Fifth Harmony, 'Reflection'
Raise your glass to girl-group power. It's returning thanks to music-maven Simon Cowell, who understands the need to resurrect this abandoned, gay-celebrated American tradition, where female voices unite for the purposes of empowerment and man-sassing. Fifth Harmony fills a sad void left by TLC, En Vogue, Spice Girls and Destiny's Child, and the quintet's long-anticipated debut, "Reflection," is both a modern-day creation of irresistible girl-group frivolity and a hat-tip to their '90s foremothers. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the cheery drum-dropping dance number "Brave Honest Beautiful," which launches with a "they ain't ready for this" roll-call a la "Bootylicious" and then, to reinforce their strong-women-rule mantra, names off Madonna, Shakira and Beyonce. "Like Mariah" goes as far as to sample the chanteuse herself, looping her "do do doop dums" from "Always Be My Baby" into an infectious throwback that's cuter than kittens. On "Worth It," the ladies lead a parade of handclaps, horns and self-love swagger, and then there's "This Is How We Roll," which is Fifth Harmony in a nutshell. "This place is jumpin' / we keep it bumpin'," they say. And yeah, even if it's a formula that'll only take them so far, it's true: They sure as hell know how to throw a party. Grade: B+
Michelle Chamuel, 'Face the Fire'
Even before "The Voice," where she took second place during the fourth season, Michelle Chamuel had a knack for pop melodies as lead singer of Michigan-based Ella Riot (previously My Dear Disco). Additional clout never hurts, but on the perpetually peppy "Face the Fire," it's a hit Chamuel is after. And even if some of the material, co-written by Ella Riot bandmates Tyler Duncan and Theo Katzman, is slight, the adorkable ditty-maker has enough surefire singles to earn her some airplay: glitchy synths pop and sizzle on "Made for Me," delivering the lovestruck sentimentality and cinematic cuteness of a Sara Bareilles song; "Weight of the World" is a dreamy number set to evocative keyboards and gentle bass; and traces of Gloria Estefan's "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You" are flecked throughout the anthemic title track. Chamuel's determination in riding the coattails of "The Voice" is apparent throughout (who can blame her?), but no more than on "Lottery," with a Kelly Clarkson-worthy hook – "we'll find out if it's meant to be, if we both play the lottery" – that scoops you up in its electro-pop fuzz. Radio, are you listening? Grade: B
Kate Pierson, 'Guitars and Microphones'
Even after almost 40 years, B-52s co-founder Kate Pierson is still loading up the love shack. On "Pulls You Under," the last track from her first solo album – a long time coming, she's said – Pierson wraps the wounded in an ascending wallop of live instruments and her own "rainbow voice." The song sits among a sometimes-delightfully quirky (and definitely not-for-everyone) set executive produced by Sia, who also made songwriting contributions. "Throw Down the Roses" is a riotous chant, and many others charm too. "Mister Sister," however, misses the mark – it's too simplistic to be a trans anthem, as it's being called. And the music itself? Well, at least it's not terrible.
Night Terrors of 1927, 'Everything's Coming Up Roses'
A pop-rock weepie reminiscent of The Cure and featuring Tegan and Sara, the terrific single "When You Were Mine" promised big things to come for L.A. alt duo Night Terrors of 1927. Now that it's out, however, the band's debut never quite meets that potential. Its major flub? How dated it sounds. Despite occasional sparks of ingenuity, especially the choir-accompanied "Perfect Day," "Everything's Coming Up Roses" sticks to the most basic tropes of 2000-era rock. So thanks anyway, "Always Be One," but The Killers beat you to the punch.