A$AP Rocky -LiveLoveA$AP: How’s this for a fucking walking paradox: I don’t even think Rocky is *good* at rapping — pretty boy/purple drank/Houston/weed rinse, repeat — but haven’t been able to put down this album since getting it. Or at least the first half. For all the points Rocky gets docked in creativity and versatility, he makes up for in style and production (particularly the Clams Casino tracks).
NBA Role Player Comparison: If Sebastian Telfair would have turned out like Ray Felton. The burden that comes with being New York City’s “Next Big Thing” has crushed even the surest of sure things. Telfair essentially bottomed-out in the league after a high school career so storied at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High it warranted it’s own intoxicating ESPN documentary. Still, dude’s made $15 million in his career. Rocky is off to a fast start in that department, too.
The Strokes - Angles: One of my two most anticipated albums of the year. I do think there’s a banger or two hidden inside here, but “Angles” sounds exactly like its back story: an uninspired effort from a band with its most important cog immensely disinterested.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Tracy McGrady. The early ’00s were a weird time, and it might have robbed both of these entities of the appreciation they deserved. Side angle: brilliance cut short. When at the top of their collective short-lived peaks, was anyone better? Maybe only Kobe and Jack White, and I don’t think I believe either.
Tyler, the Creator - Goblin: My other mega-anticipated album. I think it has to register as a bit of a disappointment even if it remains an engaging listen. Preposterously insular and almost wholly staked in some bizarre, self-created universe, “Goblin” is the hardest album to listen to this year by leaps and bounds. Still, I do believe there are times when it’s also feels extremely rewarding. Also: rap albums are way too long.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Boogie Cousins. Young (each born in the ’90s) and immature rebels that double as budding icons. Each has so much potential it makes you forget about fisticuffs with Donte Greene or even “Bitch Suck Dick”.
Kendrick Lamar - Section.80: Lamar sizes himself up in “Ab-Soul’s Outro”, but he’s only half-right: “I’m not the next pop star, I’m not the next socially aware rapper // I am a human motherfucking being over dope ass instrumentation”. After spending the year with the likes of Tyler and A$AP Rocky, Lamar is breath of fresh air in that the man can actually rap. In the Swag Era, he might qualify as “the next socially aware rapper” by default.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Etan Thomas. It’s not like I expect Kedrick Lamar to ever raise money for earthquake victims or fight Brendan Haywood, much less blog for the Huffington Post, but both care about stuff, man. That’s what separates them from their peers.
Okkervil River - I Am Very Far: A college years favorite of mine that just couldn’t seem to hook me with this release. Okkervil River will always be carried by the persona of Will Sheff, but it’s not the same without the hits. This is the first Okkervil River record ever without one.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Brian Cardinal. When I saw Okkervil River in September, I was blown away by how much of the crowd looked exactly like Your Dad.
Bright Eyes - The People’s Key: Lower yr expectations: it could have been assumed that this wouldn’t be half as good as Conor Oberst’s three best records, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t catchy and likable. For as much as I dig the new wave-influenced pop-rock style of “Shell Games” and “Jejune Stars”, this album may peak at “Ladder Song”, with Oberst at his most melancholy and his minimalistic.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Steve Nash. Both Nash and Oberst were galvanizing enough in their prime to create something just short of a cult. Nash isn’t an MVP candidate anymore, Conor is light-years removed from the early period songwriting that earned him “Next Big Thing” cred in the pre-blog era. Still, both retain a bit of that “people’s champ” panache while sporadically being capable of turn-back-the-clock moments.
Neon Indian - Era Extrana: I can’t shake the feeling that this would sound so much better in a year without M83. Sonically, the two releases are similar, but where Anthony Gonzalez’s grandiose attempts feel legitimately epic, Alan Palomo’s occasionally can feel cheesy. Even so, this is potentially more cohesive than “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” and your fringe-hipster friends will probably like it three times as much.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Chris Bosh. The main narrative surrounding Bosh is his role as the league’s go-to punchline; it’s easy enough that even a well past-its-prime comedy like “The Office” can create a season highlight just by using Bosh’s name for an easy joke. If there’s a similarity with Neon Indian, though, it comes in the perception of their actual value: both might qualify as underrated, with semi-low P4K scores and almost-dominating Eastern Conference Finals performances serving as the evidence.
Radiohead - The King of Limbs: The reason this is the worst Radiohead album ever is because it’s the first one Radiohead has ever sounded like Radiohead. But even Radiohead doing an impression of itself can be occasionally thrilling, and “The King of Limbs” — with it’s proto-dubstep intentions — accomplishes that.
NBA Role Player Comparison: Tim Duncan. Legends of the game weighed down by the unstoppable nature of time who can still be pretty damn effective. Duncan isn’t winning you a title as your best or second best player, I doubt “The King of Limbs” cracks many top 10’s. Even if these deities have seen better days, there’s still something comforting about knowing they’re around, just waiting to blindside you with an unseen late-career bullet-point to add to a Hall of Fame resume.
Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues: Maybe it’s because they’re just such damn professionals only two albums in, but there’s something about Fleet Foxes I find almost boring. While their debut EP and first LP featured serious hits in “Mykonos” and “Blue Ridge Mountains”, it’s hard to choose one standout off LP2. It’s a complete and cohesive effort that gains points for never falling off but loses them for never aspiring to reach new heights.
NBA Role Player Comparison: James Harden’s beard. Beard solidarity.