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 tUnE-yArDs and more artists from K to Z.
Diamond Mine does what audio does best: It takes listeners far from the here and now. This labor of love, seven years in the making, opens on a cafe terrace in a Scottish town. It's a few minutes before these soundcapes give way to the unique quiver of King Creosote and the scope of this collaboration becomes clear. This is storytelling through sounds and with song. King Creosote (Kenny Anderson) and Jon Hopkins describe this unusual record as the "soundtrack to a romanticized version of a life lived in a Scottish coastal village." This is a record for your late night, or for your quiet Sunday; put it on when you when you need calm, and be grateful that in a world full of speed, King Creosote and Jon Hopkins stopped and took their time. (Bob Boilen)
It's been said ad nauseam (often by me) that there's been a renaissance in the American black metal scene in the last few years, and that the scene continues to progress even as its hermit-like players rarely congregate. (That's changing too, though.) But for a band of extreme music makers who set out to experiment with the genre in 2007, Krallice has always been a few steps ahead of everyone else. The hyper riffing and hundred-ideas-per-song that defined Krallice's first two albums are still here, but Diotima is tempered by the larger picture that its members always hinted at but have only just now reached. To extend the metaphor, with every listen, I come away hearing something new, a sharply drawn line through the shredded canvas. At times downright classical in its approach, Diotima is balanced and impeccably composed, yet definitively raging. (Lars Gotrich)
Former skateboarding prodigy Tommy Guerrero's second life as a composer and bassist doesn't get as much attention as his groundbreaking moves on the streets of San Francisco. Perhaps that's because his instrumental mix of jazz, funk and Latin rhythms fits so comfortably in the background. But the laid-back songs on Lifeboats and Follies are less an indifferent soundtrack and more of a plea to slow down and enjoy yourself. Sure, these killer grooves make for great multitasking music, but they sound even better when you're doing nothing at all. An ideal summer record. (Otis Hart)
It would be disingenuous to claim that a smart arrangement can be as vital, beautiful or memorable as a well-written song, but w h o k i l l very nearly makes the case. On her second album, tUnE-yArDs mastermind Merrill Garbus builds songs the way a remix DJ builds beats — treating every note she sings and plays as a sample to be cut, pasted, looped and filtered, such that discerning where song ends and arrangement begins feels all but futile. Luckily, Garbus understands the importance of a third element, performance, and delivers it in spades. "Bizness" is based around a vocal collage no human being could sing, but Garbus still belts out lines like "I'll bleed if you ask me" with a passion no machine could fake. (Daoud Tyler-Ameen)
"I know my thoughts, but I can hide them," Jenn Wasner sings in the title track to Wye Oak's third and best album. Control, and the loss of it, seems to be an almost obsessive concern for the Baltimore duo, and on Civilian, Wasner and Andy Stack tilt the balances between restraint and indulgence, clarity and obfuscation, independence and need. They go clear-eyed, quiet and scary; they thrash with joy. Wye Oak hits hard, even when it sounds like it's breaking down. (Jacob Ganz)