Yo La Tengo (Matador)
Yo La Tengo's continued relevance 27 years into their career is remarkable. The Hoboken, N.J., 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 a work that is intimate and thoughtful, urgent and fun.
The band hasn't reinvented itself. No need, since 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 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 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
Various Artists (Sony)
The standard formula to produce a hit soundtrack on a budget -- one that will generate sales, but not require the investment needed to make a statement -- is to wrap about a dozen hits archived around one or two new songs, at least one from a rising star.
The Silver Linings Playbook producers succeeded beyond that formula. That's because they've come up with a good mix of quirky and thoughtful music to serve as the backdrop to this movie about a complicated friendship-turned-romance.
The star attraction, United Kingdom diva Jessie J is OK on an upbeat dance number, the previously unreleased single, "Silver Lining (Crazy 'Bout You)," that was written for the film. While good, her performance is no more memorable than that of American rock group Alabama Shakes and British indie quartet Alt-J on other singles, or a couple of numbers from famed Hollywood composer Danny Elfman.
The diversity and texture of archived material carries the disc, from the classic Bob Dylan-Johnny Cash duet on Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" to songs by Rare Earth, Dave Brubeck, and Stevie Wonder. Just for fun, there's a wonderful slow-tempo cover of the looney "Monster Mash," by CrabCorps.
-- TOM HENRY
A$AP Rocky (RCA)
A$AP Rocky, the 24-year-old hip-hop sensation from Harlem, sounds like he's been doing this a long time.
Not only does the leader of the A$AP Mob have the swagger and confidence in his rhymes of a veteran on his major-label debut, but his style is distinctly influenced by the rappers who rose to prominence around the time he was in grade school, as well as Rakim, the Wyandanch rapper A$AP Rocky, aka Rakim Mayers, was named after.
There's a bit of Wu Tang Clan on "1 Train," where A$AP Rocky leads his crew through tales of the subway line running through their 'hood, their excitement causing their rhymes to run into each other.
More impressively, though, is the way Rocky weaves his way through a wild range of hip-hop subcultures, from the Dirty South to Houston's chopped-and-screwed music, to the Cali vibe of producer Hit-Boy, the synthier groove of Clams Casino, and even the dubstep of Skrillex. He handles it all without changing his own style, one that gets the details right like Jay-Z and swings between playful and serious, like Biggie.
One minute, he's outlining his dream life in "PMW (All I Really Need)." The next, he's confessing suicidal thoughts in "Phoenix." That's a sign "Long Live A$AP" doesn't just secure his present, but promises a bright future.
-- GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday