UPDATE: In a list discussing the best music of the year so far, it was silly of me not to think to include all the best shots we got from the shows we’ve seen this year. Obviously I’m not going to post them all, but if you’d like to check them out, you can head here to view a slideshow from everything we’ve seen since returning from SxSw.
So, we’re halfway through 2011, and we’ve already seen some pretty amazing stuff come out. I had a pretty hard time picking the ten best records, and I had to make some rules for myself to cut it down a bit. Each record here has to be a full-length, no EP’s. 2011 has to be the initial release, no reissues or self-released albums put out a second time by a label.
10. Wolfgang Jay-And We Move (Feb 16, 2011)
One of my favorite surprises of the year so far has been this local gem. The live show is equally good. If you like danceable tunes that mix equal amounts of Depeche Mode and We Are Scientists, check this out. My review.
9. Frank Turner-England Keep My Bones (June 3, 2011)
It isn’t that unusual for hard punk guys like Turner to switch over to singer/songwriter material, but they aren’t often this good. It’s only been out for a short time, but I’ve listened to this record a ton already. He’ll be in Chicago in October, and I’m doing everything I can to ensure my attendance. My review.
8. Ezra Furman and the Harpoons-Mysterious Power (April 5, 2011)
So far Ezra Furman has been my favorite interview I’ve done. I’m sure he doesn’t feel the same, and maybe it was just being loopy from sleep deprivation, but our conversation was probably the least forced of all my interviews. Just two guys talking. Of course, it led to a ridiculously pun-heavy second half, but it was fun. In that talk, I forgot how amazingly talented he is as a songwriter.
7. Fort Frances-The Atlas (Feb 8, 2011)
Some truly beautiful work is done on this record. “White Roses” is my favorite, but about five other songs are easily just as good. “Ghosts of California” has some stellar lyrics, and “Losing You” is a trippy pop song that can be listened to on a loop.
6. Okkervil River-I Am Very Far (May 9, 2011)
Initially a disappointment for me. I like it more every time I hear it. “Your Life As A Blast” is one of my favorite songs of the year so far. My review.
5. Lupe Fiasco-Lasers (March 4, 2011)
The Bill Cosby of hip-hop. Lupe says what’s on his mind, that’s for sure. Even when he’s calling Obama a terrorist, I can see his point of view. It doesn’t hurt that his flow is second-to-none.
4. The Antlers-Burst Apart (May 10, 2011)
Hospice was an amazing album, and Burst Apart does a splendid job as a follow-up. Pete Silberman is in the top 3 songwriters working right now. My review.
3. Smith Westerns-Dye It Blonde (Jan 18, 2011)
So good. Not many great summer records come out in the dead of winter, but this one brought me warmth when I needed it most.
2. The Poison Control Center-Stranger Ballet (June 6, 2011)
Look out world, PCC has arrived! Building on years of touring and two pretty damn good records, this band from Des Moines has proven that hard work and tenacity pay off. My review.
1. The Decemberists-The King Is Dead (Jan 14, 2011)
I said way back in January that it would be tough for any artist or band to match this record, and that’s held true so far. The King Is Dead is so perfectly simple and beautiful that you can’t help but fall in love with it. Yes it takes a lot of cues from late 80’s and early 90’s REM. So what? If you’re gonna sound like someone, who better than Stipe and co.
And that’s it so far. Seriously, there has been so much great music I’ve heard. Abigail Washburn, Oranjuly, The Mountain Goats, Heidi Spencer and the Rare Birds…all extremely strong records as well. 2011 has been great for music lovers, let’s hope the second half doesn’t let us down!