Yo La Tengo
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
Fat Possum Records
“New York City," the third song on Christopher Owens' debut solo album “Lysandre," is kind of an opposite-universe version of Lou Reed's “Walk on the Wild Side." It's a sax-soaked tale of turning tricks in the big city, but zips along a major-key melody with a mix of hope and devastation.
That blend has been the hallmark of Owens' writing since his time fronting the indie-rock band Girls. “Lysandre" isn't much of a departure but it does broaden the range and refine the writing that made him a troubadour of millennial drifters (and those who go to bed with them).
“Lysandre" starts with a Ren-Faire flute melody that suggests a joust with preciousness is to come. But then the record, which was allegedly written in one fevered day, skips off into Bill Withers acoustic ambience, Belle & Sebastian-style twee-pop and occasional nods to acid-casualty classic rock.
There's some overly emo mulling on “Love Is in the Ear of the Listener," where Owens wonders “What if I'm just a bad songwriter?" He's not, but Conor Oberst does that sort of meta-self-criticism better.
Overall though, “Lysandre" is a fresh start for a writer with a fine ear for the way happiness and heartbreak intertwine.
— August Brown, Los Angeles Times
As a member of Diddy-Dirty Money and Danity Kane, Dawn Richard was impressive. As a solo artist, she's extraordinary.
Her solo debut, “Goldenheart," is an R&B field day of progressive, electronic and smooth sounds that play like one amazing musical adventure. Her unique voice — which echoes Brandy — glides over each song like magic as she sings about heartache and breaking through in the music industry (check out “Return of a Queen.") And Richard, who co-wrote the 16-track independent release, doesn't skip a beat.
“Pretty Wicked Things" is spooky and eerie — in a good way. “Northern Lights" is addictive, while “Tug of War" and “Frequency" are certified Quiet Storm anthems.
“Goldenheart" isn't just golden, it's grand.
— Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press
“Long Live A$AP"
A$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$AP Mob have the swagger and confidence in his rhymes of a veteran on his major-label debut, “Long Live A$AP," 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. He assembles a different sort of group on “(Expletive" Problems," including Drake, Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz, for more of a radio-friendly Bad Boy-era party that would rule the airwaves were it not for its expletive-laden chorus.
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.
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Cristina Pato reaches what sounds like full steam only a handful of times on her perfectly titled new album, “Migrations," and that touch of restraint feels strategic and knowing. Pato is a pianist of percussive clarity, and a flutist and singer of warmer, softer effect. But the instrument on which she slays is the gaita, a bagpipe of traditional use in her homeland of Galicia, in the northwest corner of Spain.
She's a virtuoso, and when she opens the floodgates of her technique, as she does on an Emilio Solla tune called “Remain Alert," the force can knock you back a few steps. She knows to use it sparingly.
She also knows, perhaps through her experience in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, that authenticity and adaptability can be compatible under the right conditions. “Migrations," with its suggestion of an itinerant and even mongrelized cultural legacy, sets the stage nicely for her: It's an album suffused with awareness of tradition but breezy about its debts. The history of the gaita stretches back centuries, into a shrouded antiquity; its popular resurgence in recent years is less mysterious, involving the pageantry of Galician pipe bands and the easy flair of players like Carlos Nunez. As if to offer a dose of reassurance, Pato includes a few folkloric themes here, stacking them near the album's close.
But she opens with “Muineira for Cristina," an original take on a traditional form, by the Galician accordionist Victor Prieto. Her breathy singing, on “Rosina" as on the bossa nova standard “Dindi," is nothing special. But any trace of vulnerability is welcome, on an album that otherwise makes little accommodation for it.
— Nate Chinen, The New York Times