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Snoop Lion, Ani DiFranco and !!! 

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click to enlarge Reincarnated CD

Snoop Lion

Reincarnated

RCA Records

File next to: Danger Mouse, Major Lazer

Here's one to raise eyebrows: Snoop Dogg, one of the most renowned rappers to emerge from the gangsta rap movement, has become a "born-again" Rastafarian, changed his moniker to "Snoop Lion," and released Reincarnated, a relaxed, midtempo electro-reggae-pop collection. Backed by Major Lazer's wobbly, neon-colored production, Snoop's signature, torpid drawl translates fairly well to reggae singing (when he actually sings, versus letting the chorus chant ad infinitum). The lyrics, meanwhile, provide mellow meditations against violence and in support of marijuana, as well as general, sunny messages of unity and peace. Such sentiments tend to be more club-friendly than the typical subject matter of gangsta rap, so the club-friendly song structures (and appearances from Miley Cyrus, Drake, and Akon) may be calculated moves. It's hardly a perfect "reinvention" album, but not an embarrassment, either. — Collin Estes

click to enlarge Buffalo April 22, 2012 CD

Ani DiFranco

Buffalo April 22, 2012

Righteous Babe Records

File next to: Utah Phillips, Laurie Anderson, Amy X Neuburg

Given that Ani DiFranco is one of several artists who've taken to selling semi-legitimate bootleg albums on their websites, the release of her double-disc Buffalo live set on Record Store Day could have been forgettable. Surprisingly, it's one of the holiday's most memorable releases, and it ain't even on vinyl. DiFranco may have upped her strangeness quotient since finding connubial bliss, but on Buffalo April 22, 2012, we are graced with a solidly delivered, all-acoustic visit to her hometown. Dazzling versions of old favorites like "Untouchable Face" and "Dilate" join unreleased songs like "The Atom" and a spoken-word poem too new to have a name. Her version of "Which Side Are You On?" might be trite — when the once-radical DiFranco talks about voting for Democrats, an intervention may be required — but this album more than lives up to expectations. — Loring Wirbel

click to enlarge Thr!!!er CD

!!!

Thr!!!er

Warp Records

File next to: Parliament, Funkadelic, Black Dice

With the advent of 2007's Myth Takes, the band !!! moved from Brooklyn frat-boy novelty dance outfit to potential successor to George Clinton or Sly Stone, thanks in large part to newly added vocalist Shannon Funchess. But while 2010's Strange Weather, Isn't It? suggested the band had reached a plateau, Thr!!!er once again raises the bar. Bringing in Jim Eno as an additional percussionist — as well as some clever engineering tricks in the treatment of vocals and guitar — moves the band toward rhythmic greatness. From the opening disco beats of "Even When the Water's Cold" to the relentless drum patterns of "Station," Thr!!!er gives no quarter. The album can make a massive assault on any dance floor or treadmill, and will even provide sedentary auto or sofa listeners with a veritable slap in the face. Use it to frighten fans of electronic dance music. — Loring Wirbel

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