The year isn't quite half over, but as of today, "summer" is officially here - even if the calendar needs a few weeks to catch up - and by the time summer is over, so will 2011. Or close enough. So Rocks Off asked our staff to give us their favorite two albums of the year so far, plus one outstanding local or Texas release, which we'll give you at high noon.
Chris Gray: At this point, I have heard a lot more new music that I have thoroughly enjoyed than at six months into 2010. This makes me happy, and also makes me wonder if 2011 is peaking a little too early. Screw it. My two favorites so far are Bob Geldof's How To Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell and Gregg Allman's Low Country Blues.
I had no idea what to expect from Geldof's album, and was both delighted and impressed with what I did: A sometimes giddy, sometimes growling affair laced with rock, pop, blues, techno-blues and disco, plus one dynamite love song in "Dazzled By You." I had a pretty good idea what to expect from Allman, a pretty comprehensive cataloging of blues and R&B from the past 75 years or so, and boy did he ever deliver: Skip James, Amos Milburn, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Bobby Blue Bland, Sleepy John Estes, etc. Dive in.
Both albums, paraphrasing Geldof's "Silly Pretty Thing," make me want to fill my lungs and sing. Here are a few more: My Morning Jacket, Circuital; Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues, Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers, Teenage and Torture; PJ Harvey, Let England Shake, Steve Earle, I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive; Foo Fighters, Wasting Light; Preservation Hall Jazz Band & Del McCoury Band, American Legacies.
So far 2011 is shaping up to be the best musical year of the 2010s. Easily.
Neph Basedow: Refreshingly, I feel 2011 has so-far produced many mentionable records. I hemmed and hawed over a list including Yuck, Those Darlins, Man Man, Twin Shadow, and Smith Westerns, but ultimately decided the Decemberists' The King is Dead and the Generationals' Actor-Caster are the best of the bunch.
I group the Decemberists into a small niche of modern musicians with The National, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear and the Jicks, who consistently produce quality records, and The King is Dead is no exception; a decade-plus into their career, they're showing no signs of a senior slump.
I'm enjoying Actor-Caster for different reasons; it's fresh, well-produced, a nice blend of New Wave and rock, and most importantly, instills the hope of a lasting good band.
John Seaborn Gray: So far my favorite album of the year is All Eternal's Deck by the Mountain Goats. It's really the first album of theirs that sounds like it was done by a real band, instead of just John Darnielle and a couple of extra musicians. I like the cohesion to it, and the songwriting, as always, is great. Close on its heels would be Okkervil River's I Am Very Far, a really different and weird album for those guys but one that is quickly growing on me.
Craig Hlavaty: J. Mascis, Several Shades of Why - the Dinosaur Jr. front man opened up for Queens of the Stone Age and the Black Angels during SXSW at La Zona Rosa, and for the first time Mascis solo made me stop and tilt my neck. Several Shades of Why also features Kurt Vile on various instruments, but you mainly stay for Mascis' sad bastard odes to displeasure and sadness.
The Foo Fighters Wasting Light rules, it rules, it rules. We all know that Adele will be big No. 1 winner on all the best-of lists, but my vote will be for the Foos this year. After countless daily spins, it's still in my regular playlist.
Jef With One F: Looking over this first half of the year, two names stand out to me as the great releases and names that will dominate the world of pop music for the next several years to come. The first is easy: Ellie Goulding. Although we picked up the British release of her debut album Lights when it was released late last year, the (unfortunately inferior) came out this year.
She is the perfect middle ground between the audacity of Gaga and the sweetness of Taylor Swift. By being both and neither, her music reaches down deep into your soul to lift it up into the kind of Pop Valhalla that has been unfortunately empty of true righteous warriors for the last several years. We couldn't be gladder of her increasing profile. The second release is the latest album Winter from folk-rock sensation Larkin Poe. Not necessarily because it's their best work so far, Spring is probably a better album, but because it continues to build the momentum for something that we feel will be the next true movement in music.
Park-tinged Southern-gothic Americana is quietly taking over the soundtracks and playlists of the world. It's a creeping movement, but an undeniable one, as well as a logical backlash from the overblown Autotuned slutwave radio holocaust that we're currently awaiting liberation from. The hunger for bald pain, open voices, and the simple strum of a guitar seems like the perfect Band-Aid for our ears.
Shea Serrano: My two favorite non-local albums have been Adele's 21 - sorry, but she is totally amazing right now - and, as luck would have it, Tyler's, The Creator's Goblin. Goblin isn't as seamless or genuinely menacing as his Bastard mixtape seemed to imply it would be, but it's interesting and fun to think about and sometimes that's more important.
William Michael Smith: Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Here We Rest - I gravitate to albums that match up with some of the shit going on in my life. Isbell is for me this year what Shelby Lynne's Tears, Lies & Alibis was last year. It sears every synapse in my brain in the wee hours when sleep doesn't come: "Needed that damn woman like a dream needs gasoline" Lucinda Williams, Blessed - Completely different than anything she's ever done. She's always right there lyrically, but she's outdone herself this time. The title track will pluck every string of humanity you possess, and "Convince Me' says just about everything there is to say about finding love and keeping it. Runner-up: Rod Picott, Welding Burns - a blue-collar masterpiece
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Allison Wagoner: The two albums I've listened to the most this year are Vanilla Ice's WTF and Justin Bieber's Never Say Never remix album. Just kidding... I've been waiting for my album of the year to drop, but until then, Fleet Foxes' Helplessness Blues and The Antlers' Burst Apart are my favorite releases.
Das Racist's debut album Relax doesn't drop until the end of summer. Ask me this question again in August and my answers will be Das Racist's Relax and Das Racist's Relax.