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Black Sabbath, Eleanor Friedberger, The Orb and Lee Perry 

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Black Sabbath

13

Universal

File next to: Sabbath's first six albums

Black Sabbath's 13 has been met with its share of misgivings, most notably the absence of drummer Bill Ward in the near-reunion of the original lineup. While Ward's presence is definitely missed, Rage Against the Machine's Brad Wilk performs admirably in his stead. And don't overlook the fact that the last album Black Sabbath released was 1995's abysmal Forbidden, which makes 13 a triumphant return to doom-laden glory. Ozzy Osbourne has lost some range, but still has an inimitable delivery; Tony Iommi's monolithic riffs and warp-speed solos sound great as ever, and Geezer Butler's thunderous bass makes most contemporary metalheads sound silly. Butler's lyrics also deserve mention — there are a few leaden turns of phrase, but he remains one of rock's superior moralizers. While moments might sound a bit familiar, 13 is a victory lap for the originators of the metal formula. — Collin Estes

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Eleanor Friedberger

Personal Record

Merge

File next to: Fiery Furnaces, Joan Jett

No memo was released, but it's safe to assume Fiery Furnaces are kaput. Matthew Friedberger of the brother-sister band released eight (!) improvisational albums in the course of 2011. Meanwhile, his sister Eleanor offered Last Summer that same year, which combined early '60s Shangri-Las sounds with her own brand of intellectualized high-school memoirs. Two years later, Eleanor is back with Personal Record, a tribute of sorts to 1970s-'80s Americana, composed with the help of John Wesley Harding. She manages to squeeze out some achingly beautiful pop in songs like "My Own World." The only frustration is that she's always been better at emulating Todd Rundgren than Suzi Quatro. Although skilled at imagining idealized past decades, Eleanor will provide a dazzling 21st-century sound as soon as she catches up with the rest of the world. — Loring Wirbel

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The Orb featuring Lee Scratch Perry

More Tales From the Orbservatory

The End / Cooking Vinyl

File next to: Aphex Twin, Transglobal Underground, Dub Colossus

The Orb, like Heraclitus, has made a habit of never stepping in the same river twice. But the two ambient musicians had so much fun with Lee "Scratch" Perry while recording last year's The Orbserver in the Star House, that they've returned with a second helping. Unfortunately, Round 2 comes off more like leftovers than a satisfying second meal. Make no mistake, Perry gives us hilarious songs, such as "Fussball" and "Don't Rush I." But after the first six tracks, the listener is given five instrumental reprises of the material just presented. Sometimes, an ambient dub album gets away with this by offering wildly different remixes, but these are essentially repetitions with Perry's vocal removed. As the title partially suggests, More Tales From the Orbservatory is really just an EP's worth of material from the first Orbserver effort. — Loring Wirbel

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