Sonic Reducer

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Devil on Our Side is like a long road trip with friends. There are moments when you’re bored to tears and times when you wish you had stayed home, but when it’s all over, you’re glad you went. The record’s sluggish pace and refusal to veer from its indie-punk schtick can make getting through the album on a first listen tough. But the murky, distorted guitars, high-strung keyboards and Adrianne Verhoeven’s refreshingly out-of-tune vocals make the journey worth it. It’s always sad when a quality outfit disbands, as The Anniversary did in 2004. But the group has a raw and giddy delivery that might have worn away if it had continued to make music. (SM)

Dizzee Rascal Maths + English (XL)

Grime-rap guru Dizzee Rascal might be softening his edges. You won’t notice it in his lyrics, which are still as lascivious and foul as ever, but a few of his beats could be cutesy club-bangers. There’s still plenty of harsh, rowdy and intentionally abrasive production on Maths + English , but who could have thought the East Londoner would ask pop-singer Lily Allen to do a guest spot? Some might view the MC’s slight turn away from bruising beats as "selling out," but Dizzee’s still a long way from Toyota commercials, and the new direction should open the door to further experimentation. (SM)

Al Green Lay It Down (Blue Note)

The king of R&B is back, and thank heavens Al Green didn’t bother learning choreographed dance moves or submitting to pop-friendly beats. Instead, he clicked up with ?uestlove of The Roots, who brought all the right polish to make this album shine. Lay It Down is pure and from the heart, every track smoothed out and down tempo. The only drag is Green tries nothing new—which is completely OK if you’re looking for that 1972 Let’s Stay Together vibe. The music, and the mood, is timeless. (JH)

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