A$AP ROCKY 'LongLiveA$AP' (Polo Grounds Music/RCA)
3 stars = Good
Named for the golden-age hip-hop legend, you could say that Rakim Mayers' destiny was stamped early on. Now, the 24-year-old Harlem rapper who goes by A$AP Rocky delivers on that promise -- and on the $3 million advance he got from RCA -- with a long-delayed debut that is sure to be the soundtrack for hip-hoppers in early 2013.
"LongLiveA$AP," expanding on the 2011 mixtape "LongLoveA$AP," finds him navigating a murky, adventurous sonic landscape provided by such ace producers as Danger Mouse, Skrillex and Clams Casino. The debut doesn't skimp on star-studded guests either, with Santigold, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q and Yelawolf, for starters, all adding their voices.
Twelve songs in, on the arresting closing narrative "Suddenly," Rocky offers his own summation of his style: "Don't view me as no conscious cat/this ain't no conscious rap." True, he comes out of the gates with the opening line, "I thought I'd probably die in prison," and continues with a hard street approach that surely perpetuates some unpretty stereotypes.
There's no denying it's his real world, though, and there's no denying his tricky flow and ability to ride with these beats, whether it's the dreamy reggae dub of "Hell" (with Santigold's lovely help), the ambient cloud of Danger Mouse's "Phoenix" or Skrillex's screechy, careening club beat on "Wild for the Night."
"LongLiveA$AP" is the first rap missive of 2013, and it goes off like a bomb.
-- Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette
YO LA TENGO 'Fade' (Matador)
3 1/2 stars = Very good
Yo La Tengo's continued relevance 27 years into its career is remarkable. The Hoboken trio of Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew have yet to release a bad album, and they've made a handful of great ones. "Fade" is one of them. With producer John McEntire of post-rock experimenters Tortoise, they've created an album that is intimate and thoughtful, urgent and fun.
The band hasn't reinvented itself. No need, because Yo La Tengo's expertise in catchy, jangly rock, gentle acoustic folk-pop and noisy feedback excursions allows endless room for triangulation. But they have added new colorations over the years. Credit Mr. McEntire for helping with the swelling strings in "It's Not Enough" and "Before We Run," the precise, giddy funk of "Well You Better," and the motorik chug of "Stupid Things." And while the album eschews epic guitar solos, it has room for electric rave-ups such as "Ohm" and "Paddle Forward." Yo La Tengo is still looking to build on what they've perfected, to shine and not fade away.
-- Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer