A$AP Rocky, "Long Live A$AP" (Polo Grounds Music/ RCA)
A$AP Rocky sums up the most recent few of his 24 years on the plush and lovely "Suddenly" when he intones, with wonder, the phrase "from ugly to comfortably." Just-out-of-the-gate rappers rarely espouse happy bewilderment so nakedly, busy as they are with hard heartlessness. Such emotional openness is part of the charm of rap/hip-hop's $3 million man.
The Harlem-raised Rocky shows gentle shock and awe while remaining raw and true to rap's street code throughout this debut album. Add to that his fluid changes of speed and flow and his flips of script -- musically and lyrically -- and you've got quite a stunner.
What's audacious about "Long Live" is how eagerly A$AP jumps before sonic booms provided by producer/electronic music-makers Skrillex and Danger Mouse. The former provides A$AP with a juiced-up mix of weird reggae and screeching noise. The latter offers him billowing rain clouds through which to dance and loll.
Such vocal guests as Santigold (on the hooky "Hell"), Drake, and Kendrick Lamar are good, ample duet partners. But Rocky is his own best friend, especially on "Suddenly," on which he co-produces the watery house track and its character-filled storyline.
In 2013's first month, we surely have a year's-end best.
A.D. AMOROSI, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Yo La Tengo, "Fade" (Matador)
It's possible at this point to consider Yo La Tengo as a musical version of Michael Apted's long-running "The Up Series," documentaries that since 1964 have followed the same 14 children as they've grown and changed. Started in Hoboken, N.J., by guitarist husband Ira Kaplan and drummer wife Georgia Hubley, Yo La Tengo has been documenting lives through music for a quarter of a century now, creating solid, virtually unimpeachable rock 'n' roll that offers a model for dual creativity.
On the 13th Yo La Tengo album, the couple works through complicated emotions with as much elegance and grace as ever. A gentle record featuring strings, humming keyboards, the gorgeous roaming bass lines of longtime member James McNew and the occasional muted brass section, "Fade" is classic Yo La Tengo: honest, unpretentious and, above all, catchy.
At its best -- the delicate "Cornelia and Jane," the feedback-heavy cruise-pop song "Paddle Forward" and the rhythmic, orchestral closer "Before We Run" -- "Fade" offers reassurance that the band and the couple at its center are as solid and creatively stable as ever. The family that plays together does indeed stay together.
RANDALL ROBERTS, LOS ANGELES TIMES