In alphabetical order, here are the 11 CDs that seemed to hold my attention the longest since the start of the new year. It's hard to say whether any of these will make my annual end of the year list. I need to listen to all of them more carefully between now and December. It's hard to know now whether they will bear up to repeated playing. And we haven't heard what else the year may bring. But, for what it's worth, these are 10 discs from the first half of 2012 worth seeking out.
Europe by Allo Darlin'. Tuneful ear candy from a young London band lead by songwriter Elizabeth Morris. The four-piece band plays soft, jangly, guitar-oriented indie pop and occasionally extends the music palette to ukelele. Morris's earnest vocals are easy to embrace; her lyrics are amusing and confessional. Highlights include "Capriconia" and "Neil Armstrong," a whimsical tip of the hat to the first man on the moon.
Bloom by Beach House. This CD, the fourth from Beach House, may be their most challenging CD yet. Victoria LeGrand and Alex Scally have crafted a record that seems more like a suite of that meshes together in a dream-like sequence than individual songs. "It's not the band's most immediate music, but the album's challenging mix of heartbroken words and aloof sounds rewards patient and repeated listening," trills the All Music Guide.
Grifter's Hymnal by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Long associated with the outlaw brand of West Texas country music, Hubbard was introduced to the music world in 1973 when Jerry Jeff Walker recorded his classic, "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother." For years, he's burnished his outlaw reputation with a rawboned version of country music that skews close to the heart of rock 'n roll. Put "Coricidin Bottle" on and hear the sounds of a band coming unhinged from the git-go. Lucas Hubbard, Ray's son, plays lead and makes his Papa proud. Ringo Starr has a vocal cameo on "Coochy Coochy."
Signs & Signifiers by J.D. McPherson. Not sure this one will have the staying power needed to make my end of the year list, but I'm pretty certain "North Side Gal" is gonna be one of my favorite songs of the year. McPherson and his band, wearing hairstyles straight out of "Grease", channel the swagger and swing of Elvis Presley's Sun Studio trio (Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black). If you can resist tapping your foot along to the dozen rockabilly-tinged songs on this record, you better have your pulse checked.
Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen. A return to form for Springsteen, Wrecking Ball contains his best songwriting since Tunnel of Love IMHO. Springsteen's songwriting can be called calculating on this record, if only because he's so obviously penned a soundtrack to the 2012 election season for President Obama and the Democrats. You may not be okay with that, but count me all in. The stakes are high. "Easy Money" doesn't just rail at the fat cats on Wall Street, it's a bald face call to armed insurrection for their theft of the treasury. Woody Guthrie famously painted "this guitar kills fascists" on his instrument. Don't be too surprised if Springsteen doesn't borrow that line for his summer tour.