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Published: Sun, January 20, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

YO LA TENGO

“Fade” (Matador)

Grade: A

Yo La Tengo’s continued relevance 27 years into their 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, 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 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 looking to build on what they’ve perfected, to shine and not fade away.

— Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer

CHRISTOPHER OWENS

Album: “Lysandre” (Fat Possum)

Grade: C

Last summer, Christopher Owens announced that he was breaking up Girls, the kind-of-glammy rock band with whom he and chief collaborator J.R. White released two terrific records, “Album” (1999) and “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” (2011). Lysandre, the lanky songwriter and sometime fashion model’s first solo outing, is a concept album he has described as “a coming-of-age story, a road trip story, a love story.” In short, it’s an autobiographical tale about falling in love with a French girl in San Francisco, following her home across the Atlantic, and — quelle surprise! — ending up with a broken heart. Owens is a classic-rock craftsman at heart, and there are plenty of pleasures to be had in sticky tunes such as the freewheeling “Here We Go Again” and the sax-happy “New York City,” but Lysandre gets the year in indie off to a mildly disappointing start.

— Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer

Dawn Richard

Album: “Goldenheart” (Altavoz Distribution)

Grade: A

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.

“Goldenheart” isn’t just golden, it’s grand.

— Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

A$AP Rocky

Album: “Long.Live.A$AP” (RCA Records)

Grade: B

Rapper A$AP Rocky meshes his laid-back lyrical persona with a melodic sound, delivering an impressive piece of work with just a few flaws on his debut album, “Long.Live.A$AP.”

Much of the 12-track set is an easy listen with solid production from Jim Jonsin, Hit-Boy, T-Minus and Clams Casino. The 24-year-old, who hails from Harlem, N.Y., raps with abstract rhymes and metaphors that are easy to grasp on songs such as “Goldie” and “Phoenix.” He shows an abundant amount of bravado on “LVL,” declaring his emergence as hip-hop’s next big star. The only thing missing from “Long.Live.A$AP” is a theme or story line to help us learn more about A$AP Rocky and what he stands for as an artist.

— Jonathan Landrum Jr., Associated Press

Jessie Ware

Album: “If You’re Never Gonna Move EP,” (Interscope/Cherrytree)

Grade: B

Though she was first heard singing vocals for U.K. acts such as Joker and SBTRKT, South Londoner Jessie Ware strikes out on her own — providing a much-needed injection into the British music scene and giving Emeli Sande some breathing space. Ware’s U.S. debut EP, “If You’re Never Gonna Move,” is a collection of sophisticated nu-soul tunes, intelligent beats and blissful, soothing Sade-esque vocals. Relationships and lust are central themes, and the delivery is heartfelt, soulful and unobtrusive. The title track is a melodic dream about chasing love and “Devotion” is a downtempo love letter. And “Sweet Talk,” a 1980s-laced groove, is a pop gem, much like Ware herself. “Devotion,” her Mercury Prize-nominated U.K. full-length debut album, will be released April 2 in America. Can’t wait.

— Reetu Rupal, Associated Press


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