By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 29, 2011 at 9:40 AM

One third of the way through 2011, I've already started thinking about my annual Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll ballot.

Sometimes at this point in a year, I'm concerned I'll even find 10 great records by the time we reach December. Though, in the end, that rarely ever turns out to be a problem. I've said it many times, there's always great music out there. Sometimes you just need to expend a little effort to find it.

Here are some early contenders for my ballot, so far:

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead (Capitol). Released halfway into January, this return to form was a very early, very high point. I was thrilled to see Colin Meloy and company leave the prog behind and refocus on melody and concise pop songs. This will definitely make the final cut.

Heidi Spencer & The Rare Birds – Under Streetlight Glow (Bella Union). The lead up to Spencer's Bella Union debut felt like a long one, but that's probably because it was an eagerly anticipated one. And I think the results are even better than I had hoped for. I hope 2011 turns out to be Heidi's year.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop). I liked the band before, but to me, this disc is a big leap forward, expanding and refining the Foxes' sound and wringing 12 songs worth of greatness from it. From the burst of harmony on "Montezuma" to the reverb-laden simmer of "Grown Ocean," this is an accomplished song cycle that is smart enough not to go on too long. (Have I told you lately how much I've hated that the CD format led to bands losing the ability – and need – to edit themselves?)

The Felice Brothers – Celebration, Florida (Fat Possum). I'm excited that The Felices will be at Turner Hall two days before their masterwork (so far) arrives from the band's new label, Fat Possum. As with Fleet Foxes, I was a fan before but not ga ga. I'm head over heels for this one, though, with it's brass punctuation, pumping bass, pounding drums and other sonic goodness. None of that would work, however, if the Felices' fine roots songwriting wasn't intact, too. It is.

Yo Yo Mundi – Munfrâ (Impazienza). Northwest Italy's finest roots rock band -- that is rock that infuses elements of Italian roots -- has also issued what I believe is its finest record to date. Maybe because it draws on the band members' own local culture and language -- which happens to also be mine -- it feels especially passionate and well-crafted.

Some other discs that are on my radar and might move into contention include:

  • The Head and The Heart (Sub Pop)
  • De La Buena – La Tortuga (De La Buena)
  • Erland and The Carnival – Nightingale (Yep Roc)
  • J. Mascis – Several Shades of Why (Sub Pop)
  • Subsonica – Eden (EMI)
Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.