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Bryan Ferry

Olympia

Astralwerks

Buy if you like: Roxy Music, Tim Buckley

One of the most distinctive male vocalists in pop music, Bryan Ferry is among the very few who could do justice to the late Tim Buckley's elegiac "Song to the Siren," and his gorgeous six-minute rendition serves as Olympia's artistic and spiritual centerpiece. While old Roxy Music cohorts Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay guest, Olympia offers little evidence of that band's Eno-era experimentalism. Instead, the mood echoes that of the more subdued tracks on Manifesto and Avalon, which is not a bad place to be. The sequencing isn't perfect, openers "You Can Dance" and "Alphaville" being relatively mundane. But when the choruses to "Heartache by Numbers" and "BF Bass" deliver the big melodic payoffs Ferry handles so masterfully, it's hard not to be won over. Seven years after his last album of original material, Olympia proves worth the wait. — Bill Forman

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Darryl Jenifer

In Search of Black Judas

Roir

Buy if you like: Bad Brains, Dennis Bovell

Darryl Jenifer is the bass virtuoso whose Bad Brains stood hardcore punk on its head, and side-by-side with reggae, in the '80s. In Search of Black Judas finds him indulging the reggae-dub side of the equation. The title track's hard guitars suggest imminent rock 'n rabble-rousing, but by the time you hit the pretty echoes and bass lines of "Away Away," you can write off hardcore fireworks. The keyboards on "Blackvova Love Theme" come straight from the chill-out room, and despite the titles, "Hey Love Mosh" and "Black Slavery Dayz Mosh" (the latter featuring the highly processed presence of Brains frontman H.R.) are mosh-free servings of dub with a side of reggae. Black Judas is a fine offering for devotees who want to follow every wrinkle in a punk/reggae/dub legend's career, and pleasant background music with muted suggestions of rebellion for everyone else. — Nate Warren

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Sufjan Stevens

The Age of Adz

Asthmatic Kitty

Buy if you like: Beck, Radiohead

Indie folk-pop meets film scores meets Radiohead experimentalism as Sufjan Stevens indulges in a bit of sonic reinvention. Having abandoned his 50-albums-about-50-states project, he fills nearly every space here with electronic clatters and bleeps, as if R2-D2 was a background vocalist. He chants lyrics like mantras and brings in washes of pianos and choirs. But like Beck's Sea Change, this "experimental" album is supported by the wordy, smart folk-pop structure that has been Stevens' stock-in-trade. As usual, Stevens could use an editor for a full 75 minutes of music capped by "Impossible Soul," a 25-minute, multi-part song that even drags out the Auto-Tune (always a bad idea). Not surprisingly, the album loses momentum. But Stevens fans will love it all, even if it isn't really as revolutionary as it might initially seem. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • Bryan Ferry, Darryl Jenifer, Sufjan Stevens

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