Sonic Reducer

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Grand National makes the kind of soft electro-pop you’d hear in a Sushi Samba restaurant or an upscale hair salon. But there’s more soul and quiet beauty gliding through the tracks on A Drink and a Quick Decision than on most of the ruthlessly smug releases in the genre. Like a drug-addled New Order with acoustic guitar, African drumming and lyrics that float in one ear and out the other, Grand National’s sophomore release never does any dazzling aerial tricks but stays at a comfortable cruising altitude, ensuring a relaxing and ultimately fulfilling ride. [SM]

Otep The Ascension (Koch Records)

Baby-soft intro vocals, a tepid Nirvana cover, yarf-worthy piano riffs (WTF?) and melody where once was blind rage mean only one thing: Otep’s gone and gotten a fashionably short haircut, shaved off its elongated goatee and is ready to reach an even broader mainstream audience. I’m bummed. There’s still some decent songs here and there. But you should download the few good tracks and save the rest of your money for goat’s blood or whatever. Otep’s The Disc I’m Using to Knife-Claw My Way to the Top … er … The Ascension doesn’t kick your teeth in—and that’s too bad. [MD]

Jay-Z American Gangster (Rocafella)

I thought this guy retired? Apparently, a sneak preview screening of the eponymous blockbuster hit starring Denzel Washington inspired Jay Z to record this album in a matter of weeks. Jay Z digs deep into his old bag of tricks and actually manages comes up with a clever concept album. In character, he narrates the story of a Brooklyn kid who gets involved with, then caught up in, the drug trade. What’s new? The delivery of this tribute album is a damn good offscreen exploration of Washington’s film character. Gangster rappers take good notes. [JH]

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