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It's not too late to discover overlooked 2011 gems

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 4 2012 2:25 p.m. MST

Though the two put out a few songs in 2010, they made their official debut late last year with "Habits of the Heart," which kicks off with the feverish "Enemy," where Kweli plays Ike to Res' Tina — and not in a good way. It's uncomfortable yet irresistible listening.

The rest of the album is just plain alluring. The grooves range from the slow ballad "Beautifully Bad" to the reggae-influenced "God Bless My Soul," with other songs that blend rock, dance, a bit of electronica and more without sounding disjointed — it all flows beautifully, and is aided by guest appearances by Jean Grae, Michelle Williams and John Forte.

— Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP Music Writer

(http://www.twitter.com/nekesamumbi )

Nicolas Jaar, "Space Is Only Noise" (Circus Company)

In today's music scene, dominated by imitators of dance beats and some of its originators, Nicolas Jaar is almost the antithesis to that upbeat world — his sound is downbeat, still echoing an electronic mood mixed with more emotion, at times mirroring the new wave of R&B from acts like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean.

His refreshing debut, "Space Is Only Noise," is an instrumental album and 13-song adventure, wonderfully blending genres, making its full sound calming, mysterious and at most times, epic. "Keep Me There" transitions beautifully thanks to the saxophone, and then there's "Problem With the Sun," which could be mistaken for a Gorillaz song. The opening and closing tracks range from water streaming to a kid screaming to the piano playing. It's noisy, but not annoying.

Jaar is a student at Brown University and the son of Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar. What he has created is a reflective sound that makes you think, and at times, dance.

— Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

(http://twitter.com/musicmesfin)

Explosions in the Sky, "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care" (Temporary Residence)

It would have been easy to ignore Explosions in the Sky at first. The Austin, Texas-based rock quartet puts out epic star-gazing instrumentals — long past the time when those kinds of things were hip. It had been been four years since the group's last album and some wondered if there'd be a seventh.

Give "Take Care, Take Care, Take Care" a listen, though, and you'll find more real emotion in the wordless universe the band creates over these six songs than in much of the music you've listened to in 2011.

From the soaring opener "Last Known Surroundings" — rolling guitars over a marching drum beat does convey a sense of euphoric wandering — to the playfulness of "Be Comfortable, Creature" and the impressionistic "Let Me Back In," Explosions in the Sky create a playground for the imagination.

—Chris Talbott, AP Entertainment Writer

(http://www.twitter.com/chris_talbott)

Deep Purple with Orchestra "Live at Montreaux 2011" (Eagle Rock)

It was 27 years ago that former Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore brought a symphony orchestra out on tour with his successor band, Rainbow. Now, the Blackmore-less Deep Purple does likewise.

They're actually somewhat late to this party: a slew of classic rock artists from Metallica to Kiss to The Moody Blues, Three Dog Night and even Grand Funk Railroad have performed with symphony orchestras. But for the most part, it works well here. The strings and brass give new heft to FM staples like "Knocking At Your Back Door" and "Woman From Tokyo."

They also sound fine on my favorite Purple song of all time, "Highway Star," but the track is ruined here by singer Ian Gillian's inability or unwillingness after all these decades to hit the screaming high notes of the chorus, "I LOVE it, I NEED it!" Instead, he opts for a flaccid falsetto that kills the whole buzz on what is a legendary classic rock anthem. Dude: If you can't sing it, don't try it.

The orchestra lends a tender, emotional feel to a more obscure track,  "When A Blind Man Cries" that shows the full potential of wedding symphonic style to classic rock bombast.

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