12. Little Scream
Little was known about Little Scream when the band —essentially solo songsmith Lauren Sprengelmeyer— signed to Secretly Canadian this year. But Sprengelmeyer had obviously pricked up the ears of key members of Montréal's music scene. The Iowa-born transplant recorded her debut album, The Golden Record, with Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry, who enlisted players from orchestral outfits Bell Orchestre and Silver Mt. Zion to dress out Sprengelmeyer's songs in everything from gentle strings and woodwinds to lashings of ferocious noise. Before the LP came out in April, Sprengelmeyer took her songs to the right receptive audience, too: heading on the road with the reigning queen of sad-indie-songwriters, Sharon Van Etten.
13. Maria Minerva
When your record label bills you as "Eastern European supermodel goddess outsider blissco trance," well, let's just say it's a better lure than "four-piece modern rock group." 22-year-old Maria Juur is dame in question; with her stage name taken from the Roman goddess of poetry/music/magic/etc. Coming straight outta Tallinn, she put Estonia on the blogospheric map with a series of synthed-out, spaced-out, washed-out jams. Utterly unknown when 2011 dawned, Minerva has made the most of this year: cranking out a debut cassette (Tallinn at Dawn), 12-inch ("Noble Savage"), and LP (Cabaret Cixous) in swift succession. Comparisons to outre LA dames like Julia Holter, Nite Jewel, and Geneva Jacuzzi make plenty of sense, but I'd like to think there's a specifically Estonian quality to Minerva's kooky isolationism.
14. Oscar and Martin
Oscar and Martin —two dudes from Melbourne really named Oscar and Martin— used to be in a free-form, tape-looping type collective called Psuche. As duo, they use their experimental aesthetic to author their take on sentimental pop-music; tossing off blankets of noise to reveal hearts worn on sleeves. For You —whose title seems both valentine to love-song subject and statement of gift-giving unto an audience— is a work of unreserved sentiment; 10 love-songs filled with both hosannas and heartache. It takes its cues from R&B production, only running such sounds through a lo-fi indie filter. Their tunes don't sound crankin' and club-ready, but fragile, delicate, half-frightened; home-made and hand-made and unendingly sweet. It's an amazing debut.
15. Painted Palms
There's scores of bedroomy, summery, chillwavey producers who've first tickled our ears this year, but none of them have anything quite as good as Canopy, the five-song EP Painted Palms have just given to the world. Initially self-released via Bandcamp before being picked up by Secretly Canadian, it's a charming set of suitably-summery, washed-out, wonky-sounding pop music, with layers of pleasing post-Panda Bear vocals to boot. It's the work of a pair of cousins from Lafayette, Louisiana transplanted to the Bay Area, but live Painted Palms are a five-piece outfit, and they've spent much of 2011 on the road with Of Montreal. They seem set for big things, too; Painted Palms clearly the best 'second wave' chillwave acts to wash up in 2011.
16. Purity Ring
Purity Ring had one of the great moments in random-MP3 dispatching this year: announcing their pseudo-anonymous existence with "Ungirthed," a debut single that found this unknown act taking an audacious crack at pop-song-of-the-year. The Canadian electro duo take influence from both R&B and witch-house production —massive bottom-end, pitch-adjusted voice, precise synth stabs— marshaling elements both strange and shiny to make a quietly-disturbed kind of bubblegum pop. It took them more than six months to release a follow-up, "Belispeak," which came as half of a split seven-inch with awesome Canadian trance-poppers Braids. By then Purity Ring had taken their show on the road, touring with chillwave bro Neon Indian, whilst slowly working towards a 2012 LP.
18. Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Unknown Mortal Orchestra admittedly arrived on the underground radar in 2010, but, given they were a couple of anonymously-issued MP3s from a mysterious project, they weren't exactly a 'band' 'til this year. That's when UMO were outed as the project of the Mint Chicks' Ruban Nielson, a New Zealand ex-pat living in Portland, Oregon. That's when the first official UMO EP came out. That's when the project became a live trio, and started opening for many a notable band. And that's when they signed to Fat Possum, adding them to their stable of buzz-bands (see: Tennis, Smith Westerns, Yuck, et al). The debut UMO LP mixes '60s pop melodies, skittering breakbeats, and strange lo-fi production into a distinctive-sounding, summery-feeling sonic brew.