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Spiritualized
Songs in A&E
Sanctuary Records
Sounds like: Absolving one's sins through the power of rock 'n roll

Short take: Ex-Spacemen 3 member shines

Redemption and salvation are powerful totems, threading regret and longing to an inerasable past. With his band Spiritualized, Jason Pierce has made a career out of such themes, extrapolating the lush sounds of symphonic pop with gospel while lyrically connecting the euphoric rush found in the arms of the Lord and the arms of a junkie. And on Songs in A&E, he's really making his point explicit. A life-threatening spell has refocused Pierce and resulted in the best Spiritualized yet. Though his singing is fragile and ragged, tracks like the grandiose "Soul on Fire," replete with strings and femme-backed vocals, are filled with tragic beauty, while "I Gotta Fire" sounds like a tribute to Exile on Main St. Sometimes (near-)death does become you. Dennis Yudt


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Bun B II Trill
Rap-a-Lot
Sounds like: A broken heart blowing speaker fuses

Short take: Long live Pimp C, indeed

Pimp C is dead. The challenge of addressing this loss is the heart of the second solo album from the man who was his partner in the legendary UGK. Bun B is looking back, facing mortality, casting a wounded gaze on corruption. Yet this is not an album meant for contemplation it's meant for head nodding and sitting low in car seats. Bun has decided Pimp would want him to go about his bid'ness. Still, tragedy is there, as both the album's spark and the reason for its inconsistency. There is a big list of mostly Southern rappers and producers lending respectful contributions, but fittingly, the strongest track on II Trill is the one featuring Pimp C, recorded before his death, where he spreads thick layers of gravel-rough, syrup-smooth ego one last time. Kiernan Maletsky


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Aimee Mann
@#%&*! Smilers
Superego Records
Sounds like: A soundtrack for society's underbelly

Short take: @#%&*! Mann does it again

Aimee Mann has evolved from a pop singer to a masterful singer-songwriter examining fringe living with her own unique, laid-back, folk-minded style. Now she returns with @#%&*! Smilers, decidedly her most soulful album to date. "Looking for Nothing" saunters out of your speaker like a smooth '70s anthem, while a subtle organ and a gregarious horn section provide the momentum behind the mid-tempo "Borrowing Time." Then there's the synth-enhanced "Thirty One Today," which finds Mann exploring more of a lounge jazz vocal approach as she sings, "I thought my life would be different somehow / I thought my life would be better by now," with the obvious desperation of a person realizing her hopeful dreams by her own design will never materialize. John Benson

  • Spiritualized, Bun B, Aimee Mann

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