Sonic Reducer

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You’ve heard his hooks in Lil Wayne’s tracks and possibly seen him fleetingly on episodes of "The Wonder Years" or "Growing Pains" when he was a kid. And, sure, Robin Thicke sounds an awful lot like Justin Timberlake or Usher. But it’s because he’s produced and written for artists like them over the past six years—and won Grammy gold for it. He’s been on the R&B sidelines for too long. Forgive me for cashing this saying, but Something Else screams "sexy," and it reminds me of what I felt the first time I listened to Marvin Gaye. No gimmicks, no club tracks—just a real artist with an authentic passion for making good songs. (JH)

Cold War Kids Loyalty to Loyalty (Downtown)

It’s not as hook-heavy as the Cold War Kids debut, Robbers & Cowards , but the band’s sophomore release shouldn’t disappoint starving fans. There’s more fuzz on the vocals, more jangle in the guitar and the band still sounds like it’s coming to you via a ’50s radio broadcast. Singer Nathan Willett has surprising range and his melodramatic lyrics are engaging, even when the melody drags. Cold War Kids may have to do more reinvention for its next album to avoid coming off as stale, but for now, it can safely rest on its laurels. (SM)

The Sea and Cake Car Alarm (Thrill Jockey Records)

The Sea and Cake has written some of my favorite songs ("Coconut" from last year’s Everybody , for example), and on its eighth full-length album, the mellow, jazz-imbued Chicago post-rock mélange is as beautiful and hypnotic as ever. Although some tracks initially feel indistinct, further investigation reveals subtle complexities instead. I’m quite fond of "Weekend," "Pages" and "CMS Sequence," all of which exhibit the band’s cool Krautrock side. (JCC)

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