The Best New and Emerging Artists of 2011

Artist: Caitlin Rose

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Caitlin Rose

Caitlin Rose isn’t likely to get flashiest new artist in 2011, but her understated, dreamy brand of country music made for one of the most well executed and fascinating debuts this year. Own Side Now is a clever, bittersweet, and charming set that introduces us to one of the great new singing voices around. Rose lures us in like a siren, with the endless sweetness of her voice, before hitting us with perfectly dark details. She’ll sneer at ex-lovers with a Loretta Lynn-esque strength, or she can break your heart with deep confessions (“Who’s gonna want me when I’m just somewhere you’ve been?” she asks at one point). This is the kind of record that doesn’t succeed on its own. It’s not just a fine moment, it’s the self-assured start to what should be a long career. In a time where the country pretenders and loud and shining with glitz, Rose snuck in and whispered a more convincing sound. Matthew Fiander

 

Artist: El Bebeto y su Banda Patria Chica

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El Bebeto y su Banda Patria Chica

2011’s splashiest regional Mexican debut came from babyfaced 20-something Carlos Alberto García Villanueva — “El Bebeto” — and his Sinaloan Banda Patria Chica (“hometown band”). Their Disa album Quiero Que Seas Tú comprises 26 minutes of fat brass grooves and unbelievable moments — it’s hard to fathom that human lips and fingers can achieve some of these effects. El Bebeto was last seen in the likable but little-heard Banda Sairú, and he leads his own group with the confidence and drive of a tiger freed from a cage. Equally adept at rapid-fire waltzes, huge swinging ballads, and one very catchy cumbia, the band fires off 10 well-chosen songs full of humor and high drama. They sound perpetually eager to play their next amazing tune — not a bad way to begin a career. Josh Langhoff

 

Artist: Hooray for Earth

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Hooray for Earth

Just don’t call it synth pop. Hooray for Earth mastermind Noel Heroux has been quick to point out that there’s actually very little synth to be heard on his band’s spellbinding breakthrough LP True Loves. Hooray for Earth’s music, brooding and ominous yet packed with effervescent hooks and big-hearted melodies, somehow manages to elude categorization at every turn. Sure, these guys live in Brooklyn and their music does sound vaguely synthy, but they’re beholden to neither scene nor sound. As a producer and songwriter, Heroux has a preternatural ability to compose music that sounds alien and comfortingly familiar at the same time (he’s listed everyone from Enya to Broadcast as influences, so there’s that). Whatever he’s got rattling around in that head of his, it turned a lot of people on in 2011. Heroux and his band mates aren’t above doing some old fashioned promotional work to help bring their sound to a wider audience either. The band has traveled across the lower 48 and back several times, shot a couple of ridiculously over-the-top videos (one has a horse-riding knight in it, people!) and covered Kanye at the request of Billboard Magazine. Hooray for Earth will take True Loves abroad in 2012 and hopefully get around to recording the follow-up that we’re already impatiently waiting for. Daniel Tebo

 

Artist: Pitom

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Pitom

In 2008, Yoshie Fruchter released an album under his own name on John Zorn’s Tzadik label called Pitom. He had a band helping him out, and that band now goes by the name of Pitom for Blasphemy & Other Serious Crimes. Time spent splitting hairs over whether or not Pitom is a “new” act (a rose by any other name… thorns and all… ) would be better spent getting acquainted with this new album, armed to the teeth with punk guitars, Jewish melodies, and an overall sense of balance that’s more suggestive of, say, post-rock than Masada. This is exciting stuff, teetering on the edge of musical chaos without ever going all the way. This is where crunch meets the synagogue. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. John Garratt

 

Artist: Morning Teleportation

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Morning Teleportation

Morning Teleportation’s debut album Expanding Anyway wasn’t the most highly touted of 2011, and it certainly wasn’t the most polished. But it may have been the most exciting. This five-piece band takes their inspiration from at least a dozen different subgenres of rock and pop from the past 50 years. Then they toss them into a blender and play what comes out. When it works the band gets delightfully loopy results like the punk, ‘60s spy music, and ‘70s talk-box guitar mashup of “Snow Frog vs. Motor Cobra”. Or the appropriately named “Banjo Disco”, which gives Basement Jaxx and their genre-mixing dancefloor hits a run for their money. Then there’s the nine-minute epic “Whole Hearted Drifting Sense of Inertia”, which goes from happy jam-rock to George Clinton-style funk without missing a beat. Yeah, a few of the songs on Expanding Anyway fall flat, but that’s what happens when you take this many chances. Regardless, Morning Teleportation sounds like they’re having too much fun to worry about what other people think about them. Chris Conaton

25 – 21

Artist: Gem Club

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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

 

Artist: Chelsea Wolfe

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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



 

Artist: Mount Moriah

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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

 

Artist: The Love Language

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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

 

Artist: The Farewell Drifters

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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

16 – 11

Artist: The Head and The Heart

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The Head and The Heart

The Head and the Heart are a nuzzly six-piece of chill-pill kids from Seattle, who whisper and harmonize and strike anti-poseur poses when performing the ten songs on their debut set of charming alt-folk rock, a record that coincided with one of the year’s hottest record-label feeding frenzies. They trade lead vocals and shakers like true utopians, and their songs rise and fall with the ambrosial lilts that appeal to the heart if not to the head and certainly to the festival crowds across America in 2011 who were wowed by the band’s rousing sing-along sets. Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell are the two frontmen singers and acoustic strummers, but everyone’s favorite is fiddler/vocalist Charity Rose Thielen, who provides restless charisma and wholehearted backing vocals. As the post-Mumford new folk revival continues to unfold, the Head and The Heart stood out for a simple reason… They brought the best songs to the party. Steve Leftridge

 

Artist: Kendrick Lamar

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Kendrick Lamar

While Kendrick Lamar’s name is new to most music listeners in 2011, the guy’s been rapping for nearly as long as he’s been able to form complete sentences. He signed his contract with Top Dawg Entertainment at 16 years old, severely outrapped Charles Hamilton as a crowd member in a viral YouTube video and released his own take on most of Tha Carter III‘s beats when he was still known as K. Dot. The guy’s got cosigns from artists as high up as Dr. Dre for good reason, his lyricism a deft revival of the sort of world-conscious, gangster-aware point of view West Coast scions Ice Cube and 2Pac (who Lamar dedicates ten minutes of time to at each concert) made so viscerally popular during the Golden Age. He raps like a man much wiser than his 24 years on Earth would bely, and of all the young rappers to emerge from the blogosphere in the past couple years none have equalled Lamar’s ability to speak to both his generation and generations past so comfortably. David Amidon

 

Artist: Zola Jesus

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Zola Jesus

With two major releases in the last 14 months, and a series of rave performances at the Pitchfork festival and CMJ, 2011 was a breakout year for Nika Rosa Danilova, the artist known as Zola Jesus. Nika achieved initial recognition for a series of singles and a raw debut album that had her narrowly labeled as the poster child of a Goth revival. While drawing comparisons with the likes of Kate Bush, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and the Cocteau Twins, Nika seemed poised for a major impact: a track like “I Can’t Stand” with her plaintive vocals, pulsating strings, and precision percussion, all against an atmospheric background demonstrated her potential to cross genres, integrating elements of classical, experimental and industrial music.

With the release of Conatus in Oct 2011, on the heels of the full length album Stridulum II in the fall of 2010, Nika deserves recognition as one of the top emerging artists of the year, realizing her potential through the release of one of the most unique works of the year. While her earlier work hinted at her ability to draw upon disparate styles, on Conatus, Nika achieves her full potential, combining soaring vocals, industrial beats, and a sense of foreboding to forge a unique musical blend. Nika’s musical vision is a function of the splendid isolation that comes with being raised in the town of Merrill, located in a remote rural area of North-Central Wisconsin, studies in philosophy and classical music training that has her poised to expand the narrow boundaries of the indie singer-songwriter genre. Zola Jesus is an artist to watch: rare is it for an artist to demonstrate so much growth over a short period of time, particularly in light of her prodigious output over the last 12 to 18 months. With her track record of collaboration, Nika is poised to have a deep impact on electronic indie pop. Dennis Shin

 

Artist: Purity Ring

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Purity Ring

Corin Roddick and Megan James are from the future. They, many years from now, built a time machine, packed up some (then vintage) synths, and came back to the year 2011 (Because what other year would they have possibly chosen? Don’t think about it too much.) It’s the only explanation. They’ve taken familiar touchstones — the Knife, decades of IDM, the much maligned witchhouse movement — and woven them into something fresh and singular. Together, as Purity Ring, the duo makes woozy, slightly insidious electro-pop, all manipulated vocals and steel-tipped hooks. James has a girlish, innocent voice, all the better to deliver lines about drilling holes in eyelids and haunted beds. Roddick plays to James’s strengths, shifting and looping her vocals, layering them on top of his stuttering beats until they become another instrument, part-human and part-machine. So far, Purity Ring has released only three tracks. 2012 will see, with any luck, a full album. Fingers crossed. Corey Beasley

Latest tracks by PURITY RING

 

Artist: Warm Ghost

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Warm Ghost

An invariable part of music is the trend. Every year it seems there is some sort of new trend that brings forth all sorts of new artists. In 2011, one of these trends was that of “chillwave”, a term that, despite my disdain at its usage, is somewhat telling of the artists that fall under its nomenclature (Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, Neon Indian). The beauty of Warm Ghost, and their debut record Narrows, is that they don’t sound like they’re trying to fall into a trend. Instead, Narrows sounds like the product of two artists (Paul Duncan and Oliver Chapoy) who know how to take a highly permutable instrument like a synthesizer and make music both emotionally resonant and deeply haunting. 2011 saw two great releases from the band (the EP Uncut Diamond and Narrows), both of which establish them as something much greater than just another artist following a trend. Warm Ghost’s sound, while not unfamiliar, is entirely their own, and it’s a sound that stood out distinctly amongst all the great music of 2011. Brice Ezell

15 – 11

Artist: Austra

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Austra

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

 

Artist: Charles Bradley

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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

 

Artist: Lydia Loveless

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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

 

Artist: WU LYF

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WU LYF

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

 

Artist: The Joy Formidable

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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

10 – 6

Artist: Anna Calvi

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Anna Calvi

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

 

Artist: Youth Lagoon

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Youth Lagoon

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

 

Artist: Gauntlet Hair

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Gauntlet Hair

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

 

Artist: EMA

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EMA

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

 

Artist: Clams Casino

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Clams Casino

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

5 – 1

Artist: Yuck

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Yuck

Youngsters Yuck pulled off a neat trick putting themselves on the map, making their name by hearkening back to a sound first perfected around the time these early twentysomethings were born. Delivering straight-up guitar-driven punk-pop, Yuck is a throwback to the late ‘80s heyday of Dinosaur Jr. and early Superchunk, with a dash of Yo La Tengo’s indie noise tossed into the mix. On its self-titled debut, the group is reckless with its use of feedback and heavy riffs, though they’re always channeled through an intuitive sense of melody. The main reason why Yuck is so vital and vibrant, though, is that the band treats what came before it not with any bowed reverence or rose-tinted nostalgia, but with the exuberance and enthusiasm of discovering something as if it was all new — even if it’s only so for them. Arnold Pan

 

Artist: Shabazz Palaces

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Shabazz Palaces

Shabazz Palaces — the new project from Digible Planet’s Ishmael Butler — makes a confounding noise. This is hip-hop, at least it has beats and there is rapping, but then again it totally isn’t. The music here is glitchy and disconnected, spacious and jagged at the edges. Over it, though, Butler’s flow is a throwback to the old school in the best, most versatile way possible. This combination of forward thinking and deference to tradition puts Shabazz Palaces in a fruitful musical limbo, one that the project exists in on its own. There isn’t another hip-hop record like Black Up in 2011, and even if there was it wouldn’t be as good. Butler has carved out his own innovative, dark path with Shabazz Palaces, and leaves himself plenty of room to grow. As we are exposed to more music, and become more savvy about understanding genres and their limitations, Butler comes the closest anyone has to creating a new genre. And even if we don’t know what the hell to call it, that’s an impressive feet, and one that will bear fruit for a long time to come. Matthew Fiander

 

Artist: Wild Flag

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Wild Flag

As if the embodiment of a Springsteen sermon, Wild Flag delivers rock ‘n’ roll as humanist salvation. At a time when paeans to rock are often self-consciously accompanied with a wink and a reference, Wild Flag celebrates unironically the community forged between fans and artists (“Romance”), interrogates rock’s primal energy (“Boom”), and invites everyone to play along (“Electric Band”). All the while, Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Janet Weiss, and Rebecca Cole forge a sound that’s at once reminiscent of their respective, better-known projects and organically integrated. Some might quibble with this group of indie rock vets being tagged “new”, but they earn it honestly. Not content to let their considerable pedigrees carry them, the members of Wild Flag confidently blaze through their debut like eager next-big-things. David Bloom

 

Artist: James Blake

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James Blake

You could have made a case for English producer-singer-pianist James Blake as one of the best new artists of 2010; he released three well-regarded EPs last year (March’s The Bells Sketch, May’s CMYK, and October’s Klavierwerke), as well as a game-changing cover of Feist’s “Limit to Your Love” that demanded the headphone treatment for its earthshaking post-dubstep bass line. His 2011, though, was even better: February saw the release of his tremendous self-titled debut LP, which earned him a Mercury Prize nomination and legions of fans, and a month ago he dropped the Enough Thunder EP, which featured a pared-down Joni Mitchell cover and a haunting Bon Iver collaboration. That’s quite a catalog for a 23-year-old. Billy Hepfinger

 

Artist: The Weeknd

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The Weeknd

While R&B music has enjoyed a recent flurry of fresh thinking and imagination, no one has been quite as sonically daring as the Weeknd. Dropping two free mixtapes (though the accomplished nature of both releases really stretches the meaning of the word) in House of Balloons and Thursday, the Toronto-based 21-year-old — real name Abel Tesfaye — built an immaculate sound utilising spooky 707 drum machines, reverb-heavy guitar licks and unobvious samples. Focusing less of melody and more on raw emotion, both records’ carry a decadent atmosphere as Tesfaye guides listeners through 18 tracks of cocaine-fuelled lust, loss and depression. That the music arrived before Tesfaye’s name or face became public knowledge only added to its mysterious nature, but his profile has been steadily on the rise since. Closing out the year in style, he took the lead on fellow Toronto-native and Young Money heavyweight Drake’s “Crew Love”, a symbol-heavy wonderland where the star is firmly resigned to supporting act on his own record as Tesfaye lowers the temperature on Drizzy’s already frosty sound. Dean Van Nguyen

The Weeknd – House Of Balloons by The_Weeknd

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