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Die Antwoord

Ten$ion

Downtown

Buy if you like: Technotronic, Kurt Weill

After blowing up all over the interweb with 2010's "Enter the Ninja" — a viral hit whose performance-art elements still have people wondering whether to take Die Antwoord seriously — the South African rap-rave duo signed with Interscope for a debut album as artistically brilliant as it was commercially disappointing. Now emcees Ninja and Yo-Landi Vi$$er have gone DIY with the Universal-distributed Ten$ion, whose best tracks ("I Fink U Freeky," "Baby's on Fire," "Fok Julle Naaiers") find their guttural patois and sonic sucker-punches as potent as ever. Die Antwoord falters on the two songs (a weirdly Billy Corgan-ish "Never Le Nkemise 1" and a pointlessly obscene "DJ Hi-Tex Rulez") where Yo-Landi's high-pitched, bait-and-hook vocals are conspicuously AWOL. Still, the duo wouldn't have gotten this far without breaking rules and defying expectations, so don't expect the next-level antics to end anytime soon. — Bill Forman

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Van Halen

A Different Kind of Truth

Interscope

Buy if you like: David Lee Roth, Eddie Van Halen

It took Sammy Hagar to make me truly appreciate David Lee Roth. Whether hawking tequila or belting out banalities, Hagar always seemed better at marketing than music. But Roth's guileless showmanship is the perfect foil for Eddie Van Halen's guitar pyrotechnics, making this reunion the band's best work in 28 years. If "Big River" and "Beats Workin'" are semi-generic, they're offset by the speed-vs.-sludge mood swings of "As Is" and the riffy charm of "China Town." Roth is also an underrated lyricist, as "Tattoo" combines a clever chorus ("Swap Meet Sally / Tramp Stamp Kat / Mousewife to mombshell / In the time it took to get that new tattoo") with an uncharacteristically serious verse about a union-activist uncle ("On my shoulder is the number / Of the chapter he was in / That number is forever / Like the struggle here to win"). Let Sammy have his Chickenfoot; this is the real shit. — Bill Forman

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Friends

Razor & Tie

Buy if you like: Blind Boys of Alabama, Mighty Clouds of Joy

This two-CD set compiles many collaborations Ladysmith Black Mambazo has done over the past three decades, starting with "Homeless" and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" from Paul Simon's Graceland, which introduced Ladysmith to U.S. audiences. Familiar songs are made fresh by the group's unique sound: In "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Dolly Parton's voice soars over a reggae-meet-Zulu arrangement; a very cool, laid-back version of Bill Withers' soul classic "Ain't No Sunshine" features Des'Ree on vocals. Given the mix of styles and performers, no listener will like everything. "Bread of Heaven," an overblown choral number, features musical theater actor Michael Ball; South African opera singer Jannie Moolman overwhelms "Paradise Road" to no good effect. But the disc contains more than enough real gems to make it an overall success. — L. Kent Wolgamott

  • Die Antwoord, Van Halen, Ladysmith Black Mambazo

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