Exclaim!'s Best of 2014: Top 10 Soul & R&B Albums

3. Tinashe

Calling an album "better than it needs to be" isn't necessarily damning it. In the case of Tinashe's major label debut, Aquarius, the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter could have coasted on the mixtape love she had been getting — for 2012's Reverie and Black Water in 2013 — and on "2 On," her summer hit. But Aquarius arrived polished and hit the ground running with all the requisite electronic, synth and trap sounds demanded by current R&B sensibilities.

There's a definite feel of craft involved: Tinashe's evolving vocals fit with the ultra-moody, sexed-up production. Tracks like "Thug Cry," "2 On" and "All Hands on Deck" check off the respective girl power, urban swag and electro-pop boxes, but then it shifts into another gear with the Dev Hynes-assisted "Bet" and "Wildfire." With Aquarius, it's nice to see that R&B-centric sounds still get love on a major label level. (Ryan B. Patrick)