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 Dominik Eulberg and more artists from D to F.
The sounds of techno have long been associated with their industrial, motor-driven beginnings in Detroit. Naturally, looping drum machines and electronic instrument kits do well to capture the beauty of cold, boarded-up warehouses and grinding urban landscapes. But on Diorama, German techno producer Dominik Eulberg takes his inspiration far from city walls. By sampling bits of sound from the great outdoors, this part-time park ranger wires his organic surroundings into a lush, wildly diverse album that finds harmony between the natural and the digital. (Sami Yenigun)
Grá agus Bás ("Love and Death"), an album of music by the contemporary Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, is a revelation. More than deftly dispatched by conductor Alan Pierson and the Crash Ensemble, the two works on this album are split in Manichean fashion in both mood and substance. The first is the haunting and utterly bracing title work, sung in Gaelic by vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird, whose initial honey-sweet murmurs rise through anxiety and morph irrevocably into churning, roaring terror. The second is That the Night Come: custom-fit settings of Yeats' poetry for soprano Dawn Upshaw and her silvery, glistening voice in bracing, rich, complex and just plain gorgeous displays. I'll be listening to this for a long time to come. (Anastasia Tsioulcas)
On March 29, E-40 released two albums in his Revenue Retrievin' series. Both are mind-blowing, infectious and refreshing, but Overtime Shift edges out Graveyard Shift on the merits of "Beastin'." From Andrew Noz's review of both albums: "He makes it his goal to stretch [typical gangsta tropes] well past their logical extremes through a sheer love for the elasticity of language. His catalog is built around sputtering, intertwined streams of obscure street slang and SAT words. While he's clearly a thesaurus fiend, E-40 hardly limits himself to existing words or the laws that bind them. Instead, he morphs them to levels of absurdity that would make Dr. Seuss proud. ... At this point, playing any of the Revenue Retreivin' albums anywhere other than the inside of a well-equipped automobile or some sort of super-futuristic sound system is to do these records an injustice. The beats occupy a shimmering low end and plodding highs, often sounding like the score from a hard-boiled crime film if it were loosely reinterpreted by an alien species, then slathered in aggressive drum-machine workouts. ... [E-40 is] an ageless and ever-unfolding attestation to the creativity of gangsta rap." (Frannie Kelley)
The fact is: The Ebène Quartet's members win awards for playing classics by Debussy and Ravel. The "fiction" in the title refers to the fact that they've long fantasized about becoming a jazz combo. Those dreams come true in full Technicolor on Fiction, a clever collection of pop, jazz and movie covers that reveals some of the most stunningly agile string playing of recent times. There is no bass on this album; that's cellist Raphael Merlin. And violinist Pierre Colombet's scorching, improvised solos leave listeners breathless. Guest drummer Richard Hèry, in a few tracks, and four vocalists from divergent traditions — including Spanish pop diva Luz Casal and opera's delightful Natalie Dessay — all add up to a ridiculous amount of fun. (Tom Huizenga)
Frank Ocean is occasionally compared to Drake, but The-Dream is a better analog. Like the man who gave us "Single Ladies," Ocean is a whip-smart songwriter with a host of big-deal clients (Beyonce included). He could make a comfortable living behind the scenes if he wanted to, and yet his finest tracks are the ones he saves for himself. Released for free on Ocean's website, Nostalgia, ULTRA is packed with smooth, sexy R&B that wouldn't sound out of place on urban radio. Its crowning moment, though, is the opening revamp of Coldplay's "Strawberry Swing," which twists the childhood daydream of the original into a parable about loving the life you've lived, even in the face of death and catastrophe. It would seem like a goof if Ocean's delivery weren't so damn earnest. (Daoud Tyler-Ameen)