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10 Acts to Watch in 2012


January 10, 2012
With the dawning of each new year comes new opportunities for new bands to impress themselves upon the ears of many. Being able to read the musical tea-leaves has become an art unto itself; being able to separate genuine buzz from empty hype a skill worth your while. And, if you've played along with prior versions (see: 2011 and 2010; eerily accurate, both), you'll know that this is the place to come to see fate and fortunes on the rise. So, let us gaze unto my crystal ball...

1. Bleached

The Fader
It's trite to call Bleached the new Best Coast, but not untrue. Like Bethany Cosentino, sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin used to play in a noisy band with close ties to Los Angeles' Smell scene; in this case, chaotic noise-rock corps Mika Miko. And they, too, have a fine line in sunny, beachy, California-pop; fuzzily recorded but bursting with melody and harmony. And, if we're to take the Best Coast comparison to its logical conclusion: hype has arrived early for Bleached. After tossing out a careful handful of songs in 2011, the Clavins have been bathed in almighty buzz, to the point where they feel like natural born Next Big Things. Bleached have yet to sign to a label or announce a debut album, but it's going to arrive sometime in 2012, and it's going to be huge.

2. Evans the Death

Evans the Death
London youths Evans the Death started as fresh-faced school-kids, and they're clearly devoted scholars of British indie-pop: their noisy, smart-alecky, casually-intellectual take on jangle steeped in forefathers from Orange Juice to The Smiths, the Field Mice to Life Without Buildings. The quintet have issued two killer singles thus far: "Threads," about watching the depressing BBC drama; and "I'm So Unclean," whose lyrics —"when I'm watching the shopping channel, I will think of you"— are at once comic and strangely romantic. And they've signed to Fortuna Pop! in the UK and Slumberland in the US (a trans-Atlantic pairing shared by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Crystal Stilts), with the debut ETD LP due out in April.

3. Grimes

Raphaël Ouellet
Given how much I've typed about Grimes over the years —saving her a place on album-of-the-year lists in 2010 and 2011, recommending her appearances at last year's SXSW and CMJ, typing about her with obvious, breathless fandom— it's clear Montréal's Claire Boucher is beloved in these parts. But in 2012, a whole lot more people are about to feel the glorious joys of Grimophilia. Freshly signed by legendary indie imprint 4AD, Boucher boasts one of the year's most sure-breakout LPs: Visions, the February-due, third Grimes LP. Preceded by a pair of killer singles, "Oblivion" and "Genesis," Visions is set to deliver Grimes to the masses, and Boucher to '2012 It Girl' status.

4. King Krule

King Krule
True Panther Sounds
17-year-old Archy Marshall charmed many with the arrival of his debut King Krule EP in 2011. The record was most notable for how Marshall sounded not much like a 17-year-old; having a deep, rough, raw voice that sounds like a man twice his age. There's comparisons to Edwyn Collins and Tindersticks' Stuart A. Staples that stand up, especially given the nocturnal, slightly-debonair air of the music, but Marshall comes from a generation just as influenced by British hip-hop and dubstep, sounds that trickle into the scrapbookish music is sly, unexpected ways. The debut King Krule album is due to come out before 2012 is up, and it'll undoubtedly have the stirrings of a breakout; Marshall's star one on a sure ascent.

5. Nite Jewel

Nite Jewel
Matthew Scott
Ramona Gonzalez came out of the same Los Angelino scene as Ariel Pink, and her debut Nite Jewel album, 2008's Good Evening, shared the same slurred sonics, with wonky synths decaying amidst a slumberous lo-fi haze. Over the years, Nite Jewel jams have been growing increasingly cleaner, clearer, and funkier; Gonzalez's sparkling synth-pop growing less sleepy-eyed, more dancefloor-driven. Which means that the long-awaited second Nite Jewel LP, One Second Of Love, looks set to rope in a whole new audience of Nite owls. The record comes out March 6, on Gonzalez's new home, Secretly Canadian, and the awesome title-track gives a sweet taste of what's in store.

6. Porcelain Raft

Porcelain Raft
Jennifer Medina
It seems comic to call Porcelain Raft's excellent first LP, Strange Weekend, Mauro Remiddi's 'debut.' The 40-year-old Italian ex-pat —dwelling, currently, in Brooklyn, after many years in London— has a whole lifetime of musical experiences behind him; from playing in the Berlin Youth Circus as a kid, to time in Italian alt-rock acts in the early-'90s, to a stint with failed English hype band Sunny Day Sets Fire in the '00s. Since striking out solo as Porcelain Raft, Remiddi has turned out a string of singles synthesizing many musical elements —tender piano ballads, banks of synths, electronic programming— into swooning, swimming, widescreen pop-songs. Strange Weekend runs that sound through an epic shoegaze filter; meaning those early-2012 tour dates with M83 are a fitting match.

7. Tops

Montréal's Tops toil for Arbutus Records, the imprint that gave the world the genius of Sean Nicholas Savage and the sweetness of Braids side-project Blue Hawaii, but is mostly famous, now, for being the first home of Grimes. The extra light Grimes'll shine on the imprint could easily fall on Tops, a quartet whose two singles thus far, "Turn Your Love Around" and "Diamond Look," have been plenty impressive. The band essentially author a washed-out, half-obscured, semi-twee take on Fleetwood Mac and luxuriant soft-rock; with Jane Penny's voice drawling over seductive guitars and soft-edged synths. Tops are at work on their debut LP, which shall arrive before 2012's out (Update!: Tender Opposites out February 28), with scores of new fans set to follow.

8. Trailer Trash Tracys

Trailer Trash Tracys
Harley Weir
Trailer Trash Tracys' 2012 should be breakout-y enough that we might be able to forget about their horrendous band-name, and get to concentrate solely on this odd London outfit's fantastic, fantastical music. The quartet —who we can thankfully abbreviate as TTT— issued the earliest impressive debut of the year; their first longplayer, Ester, arriving mere weeks into January. It shows a band operating well outside the familiarities of form, theme, and cliché; authoring a singularly-strange take on spectral, seductive pop that sounds like a ramshackle hijacking of Angelo Badalamenti's work on David Lynch's immortal series, Twin Peaks; with Suzanne Aztoria's vocals floating eerily over songs strewn with sonic chaos.

9. Trust

Arts & Crafts
Maya Postepski spent last year in one of 2011's big breakout bands, playing behind Katie Stelmanis in Austra. Now, Postepski seems sure to spend 2012 playing in one of this year's most notable new bands, Trust. The duo —whom she splits with Robert Alfons— are, like Austra, an electro-pop project with goth overtones. But, here, the goth overtones swallow any notions of 'pop'; Trust's jams dowsed in the kind of dark, dramatic, smothering evil of witch-house, even if their melodic sensibilities promise more accessibility. Trust's self-titled debut LP is due out February 28 on Arts & Crafts, and it seems —especially in their native Canada— to be set to turn heads and assail ears.

10. U.S. Girls

U.S. Girls
Fat Cat
Meghan Remy —the U.S. girl who records as U.S. Girls— works with a microphone, a loop pedal, and some samples; splicing slippery, rough-edged musical collages from equal parts drone and pop. Early U.S. Girls outings were much more droney, but 2011 found Remy moving more towards the pop. It started out with "If These Walls Could Talk" —one of my favorite random free singles from 2011— a smeared girl-group pastiche with fuzzed-out sound and snarling vocal. And then carried over onto Remy's most pop-like LP, U.S. Girls on Kraak, which even included a dissonant assault on the immortal bubblegum-R&B jam "The Boy Is Mine." By the end of the year, Remy had signed to Fat Cat Records, with 2012 promising further steps towards bona fide accessibility.
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