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Just over a year ago a wave of cryptic videos starting appearing on the interwebs like UFO sightings. A femme fatale resplendent in Spanish matador’s outfit, ghost-faced with piercing feline eyes, blood red lipstick and hair tied back for battle. There were whisperings of secret seasons spent deep underground in Doctor Eno’s hollowed out volcano, endlessly training for mortal combat like some amorous assassin. And, boy, could she play guitar. It wasn’t your down-the-boozer caveman boogie, no, it was the mystical language of the Gods. Buckley and Reinhardt via Ravel. Rich ‘n’ strange and oh so classy. What enchanting phantom was this? This was the anti-American Idol. Witness her translation of Cohen’s “Joan of Arc” and feel your jaw hit the floor. That 2011 didn’t bow down before her in mass hypnosis was both a sadness and a blessing. This one walks the road less travelled, but the wise surely follow in her footsteps. Matt James
With a singing voice that occupies the strained and affecting register of Daniel Johnston or Chad VanGaalen, and a penchant for slowly churning crescendos that recall the arrangements of his Pacific Northwestern forebears Modest Mouse and Built to Spill, Trevor Powers‘s work as Youth Lagoon captures the listener through a combination of these familiar reference points and a tremendous talent for crafting ghostly, sing along melodies that are entirely his own. Drenched in reverb and accentuated with painstakingly crafted guitar lines, Youth Lagoon’s 2011 release The Year of Hibernation is bursting with songs that work their way inside your head and refuse to let go. Ultimately, it’s Powers’s attention to detail and striving toward a simple and familiar kind of perfection that sets Youth Lagoon apart from their bedroom indie pop peers. These are songs that yearn for an even grander scale of realization, and at 22 years old we can expect some pretty big things from this kid out of Boise, Idaho. Robert Alford
A short description of Gauntlet Hair‘s sound would probably be something along the lines of “Merriweather Post Pavilion with guitars”, but this dynamic duo is much more than that. Absolutely obsessed with sonic texture, the band looks to create guitar sounds that are unlike anything people have heard before, all laid over an immaculately-crafted set of storming, reverb-drenched electro beats, ultimately giving us an album that sounds like it belongs in the electronica section of your media library when in fact the group has made an album out of nothing but guitars, drums, and vocals—no bass guitars or synths to be found. Although the band told PopMatters that the lyrics, for the most part, are just a placeholder in the long run, that doesn’t prevent the group from stirring great emotion and great meaning from their gloriously experimental sound. In short, Gauntlet Hair is a band to watch, because whatever their next step is going to be, we’re going to want to be watching. Evan Sawdey
Well, “new”, right? Erika M. Anderson was part of Gowns, and has been making music for a bit now. Some of the material on Past Life Martyred Saints even dates back to that era. And yet the album does feel new, or at least fresh, and definitely like something that we need in 2011. And when we say “best new artist”, the plaudit is always one that has an eye on the future, awarded with the expectation that those artists will make something of themselves (or, less optimistically, as a hope that those artists won’t flame out). Past Life Martyred Saints is extremely well crafted and assured enough that it would be odder if there weren’t even better things in EMA’s future. There’s a difference between “best new artists” that are partly a consolation prize for being beaten out by more senior acts, and ones that just mark another accolade for some of the best work in a year. EMA’s is the latter. Ian Mathers
I was browsing vinyl in New York’s Other Music when I had my first High Fidelity moment in quite some time. For a long time I have postulated that music—like love—finds you when you aren’t really paying attention. You might be reading, cleaning or driving immersed in your thoughts when you are slowly pulled out and ask aloud, “What is this?” suddenly realizing you have been passively listening all along. And can anyone claim to be more spotlight averse than a Jersey physical therapist by day and a hip-hop beatsmith by night? Clams Casino molds these dozen plus tracks off his Instrumental Mixtape like they are on a pottery wheel before his gifted hands, except this isn’t Ghost and “Unchained Melody isn’t soundtracking this affair. No, this is gritty and real—like the smell of burnt tar on the fingertips of a twitchy chain smoking getaway driver with a bad premonition. Every second, every beat hangs in the air a split second too long and your intuition is screaming, “everything is about to come undone.” Eddie Ciminelli
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