The best rock, rap, electronica, and R&B albums of the first half of the year. Yeah, it's not fair that I'm not including jazz or classical or avant-garde (unless you count Autechre), but the point here is to overview the less esoteric releases I've enjoyed. While it's so hot out, this breezier listening is welcome. I'm working on some round-ups of the missing genres.
1. Kings Go Forth: The Outsiders Are Back (Luaka Bop) '70s-style funk with a Curtis Mayfield sound-alike singing. That makes them sound less original than they are, actually.
2. Teenage Fanclub: Shadows (Merge) Scottish band's '90s-style indie-pop may now be out of date, but I think it still sounds great, full of hooks and wistful yearning. My review's here.
3. Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma (Warp) A nephew of Alice Coltrane obliterates electronica genre boundaries.
4. Mono: Holy Ground: NYC Live (Temporary Residence) Japanese post-rock instrumental band, here augmented by an orchestra. It's all about swelling lines and textures.
5. Besnard Lakes: Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar) Eerie but occasionally uplifting, with a high-voiced singer who sends chills down my spine.
6. Autechre: Oversteps (Warp) Weirdly compelling avant-garde instrumentals.
7. Drive-By Truckers: The Big To-Do (ATO) These highly literate and often wryly humorous Southern rockers haven't lost any of their edginess with the move to Dave Matthews's label.
8. Goldfrapp: Head First (Mute) A 21st century Olivia Newton-John. Unabashed Euro dance music polished to a high gloss.
9. Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here (XL) Having survived his own excesses, he makes a comeback featuring a recasting of a Robert Johnson song on "Me and the Devil" that is easily the most amazing track of the year. There's much more to this album than that; the recurring theme is an appreciation of the importance of family support. Most of all, though, this man is arguably our greatest living poet, and this is his most personal album.
10. Dum Dum Girls: I Will Be (Sub Pop) This female quartet plays punky girl-group garage-pop with lots of echo and a hint of Jesus & Mary Chain guitar skronk.
11. Stars: The Five Ghosts (Vagrant) A comeback. The combination/alternation of male/female vocals at its best. My review's here.
12. Betty LaVette: Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti) Husky-voiced veteran makes a bunch of (over)familiar songs sound new again, and often better than they are. Review here. 1
3. Eddy Current Suppression Ring: Rush to Relax (Goner) Sorta like if the Buzzcocks were Australian and mixed garage-rock into their punk.
14. Four Tet: There Is Love in You (Domino) Like music boxes sampled and looped - sometimes literally.
15. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings: I Learned the Hard Way (Dap-tone) Highly derivative, but they're proud of that: Defiantly old-fashioned soul.
16. The Joy Formidable: A Balloon Called Moaning (One) Anthemic, catchy Welsh band that spices their dream-pop/"shoegazer" guitar sound with electronics.
17. The Seven Fields of Aphelion: Periphery (Graveface) Black Moth Super Rainbow member Maux Boyle's album of pretty Eno-esque soundscapes.
18. Carolina Chocolate Drops: Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch) Trio plays old-timey string band music, occasionally applying the style to modern songs, the funniest of which is "Hit 'Em Up Style."
19. Foals: Total Life Forever (SubPop) Sort of post-punk; more polished than the band's debut.
20. Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (Drag City) Lush arrangements by an eccentric harpist/singer. Her formerly weird, pinched singing is mostly much improved here.