Sonic Reducer

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If you heard gangsta rap is dead, you’re tuning in to the wrong radio station. And if you think gangsta rappers thrive on violence and monotonous material, you’re only partially correct. LAX is lyrical and beat-driven, bombing murals of street life and hard times in The Game’s L.A. Joining in some of the highlights are Nas, Common and Raekwon. Say what you will about mainstream rap and its current condition, but The Game spits in all the right directions. (JH)

Trilobite Silver Skin (Eigenhyme Records)

Trilobite belongs in the outdoors. The haunting pump organ, quietly but surely played guitar and harsh whispers are too expansive to be kept within four walls. Floating melodies wrap their arms around narrative lyrics with themes of guilt, greed and simple pleasures. The back of the album includes lyrical summaries of each song like "Incest and class-conflict thwart lovers. All die." and "Disrespect of musical instrument leads to fratricide." Singer-songwriter Mark Ray Lewis is a writer at heart and his words, though soft spoken, are always grabbing and unusual. Silver Skin is a tasty Americana treat with a cold, dark center. (SM)

Ani DiFranco Red Letter Year (Righteous Babe)

The Mighty D‘s latest is unlike any we’ve taken in yet. This one ambles in, loose, smiling, relaxed and gaily decked. Lush string arrangements swoop in and are peaked by fluttering horns. Something’s simmering restlessly in the bass-drum kitchen. And pinning down this new color wheel is DiFranco’s plainly recorded voice, alongside guitar work as natural as breath—and as life-giving. Maybe you were never much for Ani, but this may be the Ultimate Babe’s unintentional crossover disc. I double-dog dare you to listen to "Alla This," the second track, and not find yourself offering at least grudging respect to the musicianship and orchestration. (MD)

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