As promised yesterday, here's my 10 favorite albums of 2011 so far. Don't forget to check out my quarterly top singles list too.
1. Cloud Nothings - “Cloud Nothings” When I first heard Dylan Baldi's follow-up to "Turning On", I missed the rough edges. Chester Gwazda's slick, reverb-heavy production seemed to dull the teen spirit that made Cloud Nothings my favorite new band of 2010. But even if I don't buy the conventional wisdom that cleaning up the sonics enhanced Baldi's songwriting, it's impossible to resist this Cleveland kid's work regardless of how he packages it. I probably listened to "Cloud Nothings" more than any LP this winter, and I'm only just beginning to understand how deep these hooks sink in. At a time when reviving the 90s is utterly en vogue, Baldi is doing it best. (Listen: "Understand at All", "Should Have")
2. Frank Ocean - “Nostalgia/Ultra” Ocean is the model R&B singer for a generation that doesn't have much patience for genre lines. On "Nostalgia/Ultra" the pro songwriter-turned-Odd Future affiliate sings radio-ready pop tracks, talks up his vinyl collection and namedrops everyone from Radiohead to Otis Redding. Then there's his audacious reinterpretations of hits by Coldplay, The Eagles and MGMT, the latter of which features the gloriously oddball lyric "I've been meaning to f--- you in the garden." (Download full album at Odd Future's Tumblr)
3. Kurt Vile - “Smoke Ring For My Halo” Vile called "Smoke Ring For My Halo" his epic folk record, and it's indeed an odyssey into the depths of the Philadelphia rocker's weary semi-consciousness. There's something All-American about Vile's gloomy classic rock rehash; he's the closest thing this generation has to a Springsteen, even if his audience is far more narrow than the legions of followers The Boss commanded. And while his despair can get monotonous — enough to keep him out of the No. 1 spot here — it's an ideal complement for the grey Ohio days we just can't seem to shake. (Listen: "Puppet to the Man", "Ghost Town")
4. Stalley - “Lincoln Way Nights: Intelligent Trunk Music” With the lush, sophisticated ghetto blasters of "Lincoln Way Nights", Rashad Thomas cooked up what might be the best-produced hip-hop album out of Columbus since RJD2's "Deadringer". Stalley's contribution ain't too shabby either; the Massillon native raps with a skill and sensitivity rarely seen in an emcee — a nice guy who can still rock a mic with authority. It's no wonder they made it all the way to "106 & Park". (Stream the full album stream at Bandcamp)
5. Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers - “Teenage and Torture” Looking to be shaken? Shilpa's got you covered. (Listen: "Heaven in Stereo", "Venus Shaver")
6. Toro y Moi - “Underneath the Pine”; 7. Sic Alps - “Napa Asylum”; 8. The Weeknd - “House of Balloons”; 9. Yuck - “Yuck”; 10. Lumerians - “Transmalinnia"