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Ludacris
Red Light District
Def Jam

It's going to be difficult to make it all the way through Red Light District, the latest club-banger from Atlanta's raunchiest rhymesmith. Midway through, you'll hit a track called "The Potion," and you're gonna want to stay there: Moving to the next song means overcoming a primal, gravitational pull akin to lust or addiction. It sounds percussive and supremely funky at the same time, coupling jungle-style drums with a looped whirring sound that might actually be a bird caw. If you're lucky, that beat will seep into your dreams.

Wait -- is this the guy we habitually associate with chicken and beer, midgets hanging from necklaces, and cigars burning the edges of $100 bills? You always thought that spending one night trapped in a Ludacris song would probably lead to a weeklong hangover (and maybe an aborted fetus). Well, think what you want of the skirt-chasing and the AABB rhyme scheme rampant here -- after all, we aren't talking about flowery Biggie Smalls metaphors or Ras Kass-inspired deconstructions of blackness. But on Red Light District, Ludacris is on some next shit. Lest you think his main talent is making rude cameos on other people's hits, ask yourself this: When was the last time you heard a rapper start singing a slave chant right in the middle of the hottest Timbaland track in recent memory? And when Luda announces, "Life no different than those on minimum wage / More money, but still locked in a similar cage," you'll realize his mind delves far deeper than the sexual romps on the surface of his raps. Surely, better critics have an ornate alternative for "Goddamn!" But I'll stick with that. -- Rachel Swan

The Zutons
Who Killed...The Zutons
Epic

What with all the recent '80s disinterment, it's good to see a young band looking beyond its older brother's generation for influence. Heralded in their native Liverpool, the Zutons ply earnest '60s hindsight and work some eerie déjà vu juju on their stateside debut. The quintet is a garage band in the truest sense: Its unpolished, smokin'-under-the-bleachers demeanor isn't a thrift-store affectation but a result of seemingly accidental genius. Who Killed revisits the spook-pop swagger of the Zombies, the soul claps of Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and Dr. John's midnight swamp boogie with the same twist of limey that the Stones put on Jerry Lee and Muddy Waters.

The Zutons' thrill lies in their sheer guts and glory, though singer-guitarist Dave McCabe could use a little more smoke to rough up his glistening pipes. Abi Harding's sax hits just right on the rootsy funk of "Pressure Point"; "Havana Gang Brawl" is a boiling neo-Motown shakedown; and the acoustic "Confusion" spills well-mellowed Canned Heat. Recent breakout performances opening for the Killers showed that given free rein, these psych-blues acolytes can out-voodoo just about anyone. -- Jonathan Zwickel

Luna
Rendezvous
Jet Set

It feels really nice to deliver the news that a veteran band that has influenced hundreds of acts during its tenure has released its final album, and that the album sounds every bit as good as the records it was releasing ten years ago. Luna's Rendezvous, its swan song (the group announced last month it was dissolving amicably, before things started to suck), is, quite simply, magical. From the opener, "Malibu Love Nest," a winsome gallop of a love note, to the effervescent sunset hayride that is "Still at Home," Luna hits every note of its dusky dream-pop perfectly. Front man Dean Wareham hasn't sounded this at ease with his voice since '94's Bewitched, and the dual fretwork of Wareham and Sean Eden twinkles, the jaunty notes glittering across a skyline of soft snares and warm bass lines. How, after lineup changes and a string of mediocre releases like '97's Pup Tentand '02's Romantica, this band managed the quiet majesty of Rendezvous is beyond me. At once a whimper and a bang, this is the way Luna's world ends, and it is breathtaking. -- Garrett Kamps

 
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