Ex Hex Rips Merge Ex Hex’s first full album, Rips , has the qualities we associate with a “summer album”: it’s full of fun and life. But don’t we also need those things as the weather turns, too? Rips is pure pop-punk; guitars are strummed and shredded with easy regularity, and Mary Timony’s vocals sound at turns like Siouxsie Sioux and Joan Jett. The album is distinguished by a feeling of comfort in its own skin – despite its tonguein- cheek angst. Timony has been a figure in the Washington, DC, punk scene for two decades. The ease of her sound took a long time to perfect – Rips is its culmination. The album opens strong, with the catchy Don’t Wanna Lose , about the illusion of choice in a broken relationship: “You keep telling me it won’t be long/Well that’s not right and that’s not wrong.” Each song takes a nuanced approach to complicated modern relationships, but the album always maintain a sense of humour. The energy of the album never flags, and wisely Ex Hex limit themselves to a trim 35 minutes. Highlights include Waste Your Time , Waterfall , and the wonderful Hot and Cold . Vince Staples Hell Can Wait Def Jam "I'm pro'lly fittin' to go to Hell anyway," is the opening hook on Vince Staples new album of west coast rap, Hell Can Wait . The album is an implicit repudiation of mainstream rap that's grown sunny and complacent - Staples will have none of that. He sees his situation as a young black man in America as inherent struggle against injustice and corruption, internal and external. Even if he's not always on the right side of sin, he's here to testify: "A nigga's gotta die for this s*** to survive." He's not alone in that. Kendrick Lamar brought complaining back into vogue in 2012 with Good Kid, M.A.A.D City , his antidote to the platitudes of a Pharrell generation. What elevated Lamar's music was the interiority of his narrative - his ability to ask the question "What's wrong with me?" Staples displays the same facility on Hell Can Wait . He's no simple moraliser - no one on the album comes out clean, starting with himself. He is most political on Hands Up , about police brutality: "They expect respect and nonviolence/I refuse the right to be silent." It's timely, of course, but it's also sadly timeless. Idina Menzel Holiday Wishes Warner Bros What is it about Christmas that allows divas to show off? Idina Menzel is at the top of her game - after great success with Wicked , she's moved on to another Broadway winner, If/Then ; she's also responsible for the most popular song of the decade so far, Frozen 's Let It Go . And like so many divas before her, she's dropping a Christmas album. Luckily, Menzel has great charm. The sliding registers of her voice have the ability to make these familiar songs sound unexpected and casual. At times, she's a bit try-hard - like when she gets all breathy with the "chhhestnutsss roasting on an open fire". And the stock R&B backup choir feels gratuitous. Her talent is undeniable, but there are some awkward moments: her All I Want for Christmas is You can't compare to Mariah Carey's and when Michael Bublé shows up for a duet on Baby It's Cold Outside he blows her out of the water with his dulcet tones. Menzel is best on the classics - she makes Silent Night feel pressing - but the selection is mainly contemporary. Where is O Holy Night ? Perhaps she's saving it for next year.