If you're looking for the best of 2011's first half in virtually every major musical genre, here's a good starting point. The list of our 25 favorite albums of the year (so far) continues with Bon Iver and more artists from B to D.
Bon Iver doesn't even come out until Tuesday, and it's already proven polarizing — for its impossibly lavish production, for its gorgeous inscrutability and, of course, for that sucker-punch of a closer, the '80s-style power ballad "Beth/Rest." It's a radical departure from Bon Iver's inward-looking 2008 masterpiece For Emma, Forever Ago, but the two records have a key element in common: They demand and reward endless exploration. (Stephen Thompson)
A band I'd written off years ago returns with a career-defining work of art. Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst is older and wiser and more sure of himself, and his voice is stronger. The sonic palette is richer and the poetry more compelling. And, while The People's Key is experimental and conceptual, with grand themes such as the origins of life, time travel and the expanding universe, it isn't an overly affected art album that takes itself too seriously. It's Bright Eyes' most infectious record to date, with utterly captivating melodies and rhythms. (Robin Hilton)
This record is like no other. If it were another decade, Colin Stetson might well be revered the way John Coltrane was. But we live in a decade of constant amazement, of total overload, and so this incredible sax player is just another OMG moment. If you can, stop and listen and let yourself get carried away by one man and his bass sax — no trickery, no electronic stomp boxes, no overdubs. Let the breath and overtones fill your world, even for a few minutes; you may hear his squeaks and squeals for the powerful music it is. (Bob Boilen)
At its best, the ambient music of Demdike Stare feels bottomless. On a nice pair of headphones, Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty's analog compositions don't fade in as much as fade everything else out, until it's just you and the abyss. Originally released as three separate vinyl EPs, Tryptych works even better as a three-disc package spanning more than two and a half hours. Eternity needs time to settle in, after all. That sinking feeling isn't supposed to feel this good. (Otis Hart)
Laura is an intensely melancholy record, and Diego García's most brilliant songs are also his most anguished. The Argentine-American singer once led the post-punk group Elefant, but on his debut solo album, he goes in a very different direction — drawing heavily on Morrissey and even some of Leonard Cohen's ominous tones. García has a talent for capturing pivotal emotional chapters everyone can relate to: the sad but liberating moment when you understand why things fell apart, the instant you realize things are falling apart and the last-ditch, desperate effort to keep them together. The album plays like a dramatic film with a happy ending. I can't wait for the sequel. (Jasmine Garsd)