The Best New and Emerging Artists of 2011

by PopMatters Staff

29 December 2011


25 - 21


Gem Club

It’s easy to forgive novice artists a bit of unsteadiness; sometimes you don’t really know what you want to do until after you’ve started doing it. But if you go back and look at Gem Club’s 2010 EP Acid and Everything in the wake of this year’s astonishing Breakers album, it’s clear that Christopher Barnes, Kristen Drymala, and Ieva Berberian knew exactly what they were doing from the start. Gem Club know that emotional dislocation is just as scary as any horror movie, even if you’re mostly using piano, cello, and clear, high harmonies. They even picked a perfectly evocative name. Gems: small, crystalline, perfect, brightly glowing. Club: either a group of people that you might be excluded from, or a crude weapon. Gem Club’s music can crush or it can dazzle, sometimes both at the same time; I look forward to their next move with equal points avid anticipation and mild intimidation. Ian Mathers



Chelsea Wolfe

In her own quiet way, lost angel Chelsea Wolfe owned 2011, from the death growl-howl that opened her remarkable sophomore album Ἀποκάλυψις on. Her debut album came out at very the end of 2010, while Ἀποκάλυψις (pronounced ‘apokalypsis’) hit shelves at in August, and in between she had her track “Moses” picked by Richard Phillips for use in a Sasha Grey art-film. The blogosphere jumped on the bandwagon almost immediately, and, by gum, they’re gonna stay there. The spark of uniqueness in her gripping sound and gothic aesthetic burns too bright to ignore, her otherworldly vocals dripping with reverb at the center of her doom-folk compositions, laced with hints of blues, noise, black metal, and krautrock. Her music is haunting in the way that classic horror films were, creating suspense and dread through pacing and mystery, rather than just showing you the monster and/or gore close-up. She’s like a post-apocalyptic Florence + The Machine. Since many believe the apocalypse is right around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better. Alan Ranta



Mount Moriah

One of the most stunning debut albums of the year was the self-titled release from Mount Moriah, a country-ish, folk-ish, Southern Gothic band led by singer Heather McEntire, formerly of the band Bellafea. That was more a loud punk thing; this is more like haunting songs that fill your house with beautiful sounds but at the same time punch you in the gut with emotion. The majority of the songs chronicle the failures of relationships, with a focus both on the pain and on the ways they never really leave us. The deep impression memories make is conveyed through many vivid images in the lyrics, while the music envelops, confuses, empowers and comforts us. McEntire’s singing makes the music all the more compelling, as she carries rage, tenderness and hurt so strongly in her voice that it makes us feel those things too. Dave Heaton



The Love Language

Stuart McLamb has become something of an expert at turning the unfortunate into a gold mine. His self-titled first album was the cathartic result of a devastating break-up. 2010’s Libraries was recorded as a bit of a one-man band affair, as McLamb plowed ahead with recording minus a few of his trusted bandmates, who had left to pursue solo endeavors. 2011 then was a key year in the maturation and growth of the band, as McLamb steadied his ensemble and embarked on a successful tour run that raised the profile of the band and continued to bring steady acclaim. Musically, the band’s sound is quite diverse, featuring Spector-esque wall of sound collages, Beach Boys-inspired harmonies, and some DIY crunch thrown in for good measure. In a live setting, McLamb’s passion shines strongly through and the intensity is ratcheted up several notches. Theirs is a performance not to be missed. Here in North Carolina, we already know this. The Love Language are superstars, where shows sell out and devoted fans hang on every word. With national buzz though following the band and their profile being steadily raised, their future is looking good. Though disappointment always brings good fodder for McLamb’s lyrical sensibilities, here’s hoping that 2012 and beyond bring nothing but success for he and his plethora of musical ideas. Jeff Strowe



The Farewell Drifters

Nashville’s Farewell Drifters take bluegrass and turn it on its ear with near perfect Beatlesesque harmonies and catchy pop tunes that seem aimed directly at fans of the Avett Brothers and indie pop fans. Their debut Echo Boom is a pretty good opening salvo with an instant pop classic in “Tip of the Iceberg” leading the pack. While some of the other material could use buffing up from a lyrical perspective, the appeal of this group isn’t diminished. That’s especially the case after you’re seen the Farewell Drifters perform live. The young band may use bluegrass instrumentation, but they play with rock ‘n’ roll energy (again, recalling those splendid Avetts) and they had something of a coming out party at this year’s Americana Music Festival after burning up Nashville stages for some time now. If the band can channel that performance energy into their recorded sound and up the ante on arrangements and lyrics, they’ll be assured a long career on the Americana circuit with great cross-over potential for indie audiences. Sarah Zupko

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