ASAP Rocky, "At Long Last ASAP Rocky" (RCA). One of the most anticipated hip-hop albums of the year, "At Long Last ..." showcases a preternaturally skilled New York rapper exploring the edges of grief, drug use, fame and temptation. Grief because of the January overdose death of ASAP Yams, who co-founded the influential ASAP Mob and was its primary aesthetician; heavy drug experimentation despite said overdose. Yams' memory permeates the record, even if Rocky doesn't seem to have fully absorbed the lessons of his friend's demise.
Raw, woozy, profoundly psychedelic and often brilliant, Rocky's second studio album is awash with hallucinogenic texture. It's in the weird ode to acid, "L$D," which details tripped-out trysts amid a syrupy beat. It's in the DNA of "Jukebox Joints," a collaboration among Rocky, Kanye West and Joe Fox.
Amid the wobbly, pitch-bending backing track on "Better Things," Rocky layers his voice, octaves piled like Dalian dreamscapes, while he explores addiction, gluttony and loss. The first single, "Everyday," stars not only Rocky but also crooner Rod Stewart, fellow Brit Mark Ronson and San Pedro-born breakout singer Miguel. A weird combination? Yep.
Jamie XX, "In Colour" (Young Turks/XL Recordings). It's not easy, distinguishing oneself as a beat producer in a world in which any kid with an iPad, headphones and a funny moniker can make music as sonically sophisticated as the "professionals." Jamie xx's tracks leap out, stake their claim, consume mesmerizing rhythmic spaces. Born Jamie Smith, the 26-year-old artist rose as part of the xx, a minimalist British electronic pop group that draws equal inspiration from contemporary American R&B and British beat music.
His solo work is becoming deep and aggressive, though, dense with drive, heavy beat and increasingly sophisticated rhythms. From opening "Gosh" through the utterly odd closing ballad, "Girl," a bass-heavy jam that evolves into its own dub version, Jamie xx proves adept at exploring the intersection of hip hop, Jamaican dub music, strange New York post-disco, British grime music and gritty new-era rhythm and blues.
Those biding their time until the new xx album will be relieved to know that members Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft appear on "In Colour." The Sim-sung "Stranger in a Room," combines his sexy, whispered baritone with a sparse beat that gradually builds in complexity. Madley Croft adds her half-talked moan to the anthemic "Seesaw" and the thumpy, inspirational ballad "Loud Places." Hot Atlanta rapper Young Thug adds more depth to his increasingly surprising discography with "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)."
Sam Prekop, "The Republic" (Thrill Jockey). Best known for his avant-pop work first with Shrimp Boat and then with the Sea and Cake, the Chicago artist Prekop explores whole other realms on "The Republic." An instrumental album composed entirely on modular synthesizers, the 15 pieces within hum with oddly soothing tones and rhythms, like New Age music swimming through mystical Roger Dean-esque topographic oceans.
Prekop, who will perform at the Hotel Cafe on June 8 (relocated from the El Rey Theatre), is an established visual artist, as well, and merges the disciplines on "The Republic." Pieces such as "The Republic 3," one of a series of nine on the album, have a painterly feel to them, like minimalist abstracts. "Weather Vane" thrives on propellent rhythmic momentum, and suggests "Autobahn"-era Kraftwerk. Like much of the album, "The Meditative" loops and warbles like a quasar.