Best albums of the year so far

By Trevor Hale, Kyle Stegerwald

2008 is just past the halfway point and there have been hundreds of albums released already. Some have been good, some great and some downright terrible. The Drop is your guide to the albums the Red Pulse staff deems worthy of your hard-earned dollar.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
“Real Emotional Trash”
Matador Records

Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus has been making Pavement records since the band broke up-he has just been using a different set of musicians and a different band name. In that sense, then, Real Emotional Trash is a return to form. Malkmus is as good a songwriter as he ever was, and even the most awkward lines somehow manage to fit in and slide by effortlessly. He’s backed up by a talented band that makes his longer “stoned digressions” a real treat, like the 10 minute title cut and the ballad “Hopscotch Willy.”

-KS

Bun B
“II Trill”
Rap-a-Lot

UGK is the closest thing southern hip-hop has to an “old school,” and with the recent passing of Pimp C from this hustle to the next, Bun B is left alone to carry on the tradition. And he does it in fine form, inviting what seems like fully half the hip-hop industry along for the ride and weaving his trademark fast and smooth flow across a diverse array of beats from a long list of veteran producers (Pimp C’s beats, though, like those on 2007’s Underground Kingz, would have been better). There are a few tarnished tracks-letting Lil’ Wayne into “Damn I’m Cold” was probably a mistake-but the album shines just as often, as it does on “Underground Thang,” when Pimp C returns briefly and Chamillionaire, appropriately respectful in the presence of the dead, delivers a fitting tribute in the form of one of the sickest verses on the whole album. It’s not Bun B’s best work, but right now even an uneven Bun B album is better than most of what’s out there.

-KS

The Roots
“Rising Down”
Def Jam

The Roots got serious a few albums ago. We’re about a decade removed from the time when they were rhyming their way around songs about grits and riding the subway. But even though politics and harder instruments have crept into The Roots crew’s catalog, it’s never quite gone on the offensive. In Rising Down, though, it’s an assault. The drums are harsher, the electronics are a much larger part of the record and the lyrics are fast and angry and oftentimes sound like they were growled out between furious arguments. What’s more, they are straight-up unapologetic. Midway through the album, after the searing, non-stop “75 Bars,” is “I Will Not Apologize.” It rarely gets clearer than that. The most important part of the record isn’t its invective, though-it’s the fact that this is the legendary Roots crew operating at the absolute peak of their considerable powers.

-KS

H2O
“Nothing To Prove”
Bridge Nine

H2O came storming back earlier this year with their first new album in nearly a decade, and it was a welcome return for the New York hardcore legends. Nothing to Prove is fast, melodic and chock-full of choruses begging for a stage dive and a mike grab. From the opening track “1995” to the album closer “What Happened?” H2O takes you on the journey through their entire career, and it makes you realize just how much the band was missed in the seven years they’ve been away. Nothing to Prove is designed for multiple continuous plays that make you want to two-step everywhere you go.

-TH

The Hold Steady
“Stay Positive”
Vagrant

The Hold Steady has been dubbed “the best bar band in America,” and for the past two years, they’ve been dutifully holding up that reputation. The band’s newest album, Stay Positive, is a bit of a departure from previous efforts in that it feels a little more thought out and a bit more structured. However, that doesn’t mean that frontman Craig Finn has any less fun with his Kerouac-meets-Rollins style lyrics. Between dropping Youth of Today and 7 Seconds references and crediting Joe Strummer as their only decent teacher, The Hold Steady show that they’re more than ready to take on any challengers for the title.

-TH

The Gaslight Anthem
“The ’59 Sound”
Side One Dummy

The Gaslight Anthem is one of the most underrated bands in America, but that’s all about to change. These Jersey boys have crafted an album that sounds like something Bruce Springsteen would have written if he grew up listening to The Clash. The Gaslight Anthem’s Tom Waits-influenced style of punk rock comes across as some of the most sincere music that’s been released so far this year. The band defies being lumped into a single genre and the range of music that the members are capable of makes the album that much more appealing. From catchy guitar work and rousing choruses to Brian Fallon’s storyteller-qualtiy lyrics, this is the album to beat in 2008.

-TH

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