The Best New and Emerging Artists of 2011

by PopMatters Staff

29 December 2011


15 - 11



Formerly a member of Toronto riot grrrl-derived band Galaxy, and long before that a member of the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus in Toronto, Katie Stelmanis first started to turn heads as a solo artist with her 2009 debut Join Us. However, it wasn’t until she teamed up with former Galaxy member Maya Postepski and Spiral Beach bassist Dorian Wolf to form Austra (named after the Latvian goddess of light) that her music started to feel more fully-realized. The stark, gothic-but-not-goth compositions were now given a much richer treatment, channeling dance and new wave, yet at the same time keeping listeners at enough of a distance to retain an air of mystery. The end result was a superb album in Feel It Break that not only landed Stelmanis and Austra on the Polaris Prize short list, but generated a considerable buzz in America and especially the UK. Bolstered by strong singles, a remix album, and a willingness to tour relentlessly, Austra is set to become a fixture on the Canadian indie scene for years to come. Adrien Begrand



Charles Bradley

As soon as a teenaged Charles Bradley saw James Brown perform, he knew he wanted to be a singer. For the next 40-odd years, Bradley never let that dream die, even as he worked various jobs across the country. He finally had to good fortune to run into Daptone’s Gabriel Roth, who started bringing Bradley in for some sessions and things started rolling from there. It took the tragedy of a family murder, though, to give birth to the Menahan Street Band-backed “The World (Is Going Up in Flames”). The song is pure catharsis in the best R&B tradition, showcasing the emotion and fire throughout Bradley’s excellent debut album. It might have taken Bradley most of his life to get here, but he sure made it count. Andrew Gilstrap



Lydia Loveless

There were some mighty fine new artists who emerged feverish and hungry in 2011. But sadly for them, they weren’t called ‘Lydia Loveless’. LyLo has the kind of supernatural, freakish, one-in-a-million talent that’ll make many a chancer pack away their Gibsons and go back to flipping burgers at McDonalds, darned grateful they just don’t have to go on stage after her. Loveless’ breakout record Indestructible Machine is bulletproof cool but heart of glass swoonsome and plays like an all-time classic fresh from the first spin. No mistake, Lydia will scare a lot of folk, not just because she’s a punk-rock, heartbreakin’ country hellcat who drinks gasoline and ignites bar brawls but mostly because she’s got the kind of raw, ferocious, mercurial talent you can’t ignore. This is Rock N’ Roll! Now Loveless show ‘em how we like things done ‘round here. Matt James




Manchester upstarts WU LYF (that’s World Unite Lucifer Youth Foundation; you can’t begrudge them the acronym) have something to say. What it is, exactly, can be hard to decipher: vocalist Ellery Roberts barks his lyrics in such hoarse, raw delivery as to render his words practically coded. But the feeling gets through. WU LYF plays for the rafters, the fences, whatever other far-off boundary you can come up with. The passion of the band practically rolls in waves off of their debut LP, Go Tell Fire to the Mountain. What’s more, they manage to channel that energy into creating tight, focused “heavy pop” (the band’s term) anthems, moving from raucous outbursts to quiet tension in the span of a heartbeat. The band recorded Fire in a Manchester church, and that setting makes sense: WU LYF want to tap into something bigger than themselves, some larger sense of purpose and expression, and Go Tell Fire to the Mountain sees them well on their way. Corey Beasley



The Joy Formidable

In a year that rested its haunches on ambient albums and the rise of “chillwave”, the Joy Formidable was a refreshing sprint in the opposite direction. With their chugging guitars and grandiose arrangements, the Welsh trio has carved a niche using a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector blush. While others relied on synths and restraint, the Joy Formidable packed their debut with raw rock and roll and sweeping eight minute manifestos. The Big Roar doesn’t necessarily portray the band as up-and-comers. It’s much more like driving a Camaro with the accelerator stuck in the floor. “Whirring” and “Austere” may have held indie radio hostage throughout the summer, but the band’s staying power reared its head on tracks like “Llaw = Wall” and “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade”. Too much exposure to their exacerbating sound may create a sonic hangover afterward, but regret is hard to find when you consider the righteous journey that brought it on. Jeb Inge

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