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Julian Casablancas, Jackson Browne, and Prince 

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Julian Casablancas & The Voidz

Tyranny

Cult Records

File next to: The Residents, Jake Bugg

The worst album that Casablancas could offer would be a Strokes Lite effort of short, sharp punk tunes. Thankfully and strangely, the Strokes frontman's Tyranny is a cryptic album that often sounds as though he is fronting The Residents. The hour-long swirl of sounds and strange lyrics features many songs more than 10 minutes long, all suggesting political invective but also veering into surrealism. This is certainly the textbook definition of "difficult music," and Casablancas knows it. Still, he can't be mistaken for true oddballs like The Residents, No Neck Blues Band, or Starving Weirdos, because these bands make noise for art, while Casablancas seems to be waving a flag to say, "Look how strange I am." This may cause many listeners to avoid Voidz like the plague, but at least this album of fringe experimentalism will stick in the memory longer than the last three Strokes albums. — Loring Wirbel

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Jackson Browne

Standing in the Breach

Inside Recordings LLC

File next to: Bruce Cockburn, Warren Zevon

Jackson Browne has struggled in the last 20 years to avoid becoming a bad parody of his own '70s Southern California sound, or of pining over broken hearts following his ugly breakup with Daryl Hannah. Standing in the Breach largely achieves those goals as he opts for simple observation and a bit of zen detachment. The result resembles nothing so much as his classic Late for the Sky. That doesn't mean he's abandoned politics, as the title track and "Walls and Doors" make clear. He even provides a funny twist on the typical senility song in "The Long Way Around," by admitting he often forgets whether he's ranting about Citizens United or fracking. Browne has found a wry and whimsical state resembling his friend Warren Zevon's, when Zevon was in his final stages of terminal cancer. Browne's likely to be with us for a while, but he's moved well beyond angst. — Loring Wirbel

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Prince

Art Official Age/Plectrumelectrum

Warner Brothers

File next to: George Clinton, Led Zeppelin, Janelle Monae

When His Royal Thisness celebrated his return to Warner by simultaneously releasing two wildly divergent albums, Prince probably anticipated something would stick in the manner of Lovesexy. Plectrumelectrum is no doubt the livelier of the two, thanks to the hard electric edge of his collaborating band, 3RDEYEGIRL. The problem lies in its derivative sounds, most noticeable in the title track, which so closely resembles Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" and "The Ocean" that Jimmy Page might sue if he wasn't busy ripping off others. Prince's solo effort in Art Official Age is more impressive, feeling at times like an overstuffed Rundgren work, but many of the sci-fi ideas are ones Prince has broached before. As he moves into his aging grand master epoch, he might take a tip from others nearing 60 — minimalism and understatement can work wonders. — Loring Wirbel

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