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20 Best New Bands of 2011

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11. Iceage

Iceage
What's Your Rupture?
If you're a volume-loving, headbanging, tinnitus-blasted old-timer wondering where all the damn rock bands have gone, Danish teenagers Iceage fit the bill nicely. The Copenhagen quartet play a brand of bruising punk heavily influenced by hardcore; recalling the Our Band Could Be Your Life era with their nastiness, their dissonance, and their politics. Their debut LP, New Brigade, cranks out 12 cuts in 24 minutes; clanging guitars and hoarse vox spilling all over super-tight drums (that even, during "Never Return," goes double-kick). Unlike so many of 2011's new arrivals, Iceage are very much a live band foremost. Their shows have earned a rep for passion, aggression, and bloodshed, with unironic, non-revivalist mosh-pits breaking out.

12. Little Scream

Little Scream
Brantley Gutierrez

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

Maria Minerva
100% Silk

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 Bright Lakes

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

Painted Palms
Miles Hamaker

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
Chris Tait

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.

17. Razika

Razika
Kristine Jakobsen
Razika breezily blew into the blogosphere in 2011, announcing their existence —which, as a ska-pop band of teenage girls from Bergen, Norway, is unexpected enough in itself— with a glittering debut disc, Program 91, of undeniable charm. Released on Kim Hiorthøy's awesome Smalltown Supersound label, the record struck listeners with its unique 2-tone twee, which took influence from post-punk girl-groups, Phil Spector girl-groups, and UK ska-revival outfits. Their LP is a blessed mix of naïveté and nostalgia; sounding at once like a giddy romp through teenage summer nights and nostalgia for the same. If anyone's planning on making a sad-eyed teen film set in suburban Bergen —The Myth of the Norwegian Sleepover, perhaps?— then Razika clearly need to be the soundtrack.

18. Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Fat Possum

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.

19. Widowspeak

Widowspeak
Captured Tracks
It's somewhat appropriate Widowspeak, as band-name, makes one think of hairlines, given guitarist Robert Earl Thomas is working a generous mane of hair and a seriously awesome mustache. The Brooklyn-based band's music is hardly a work of mustache-rock (which is a real genre, right?), instead being built around the doleful, drawling voice of Molly Hamilton. Matching Hamilton's sweet singing to her and Thomas's dangling guitars, their debut self-titled LP delivers a lightly-countrified, palely-psychedelic take on indie-rock. It's earned Widowspeak plentiful comparisons to Mazzy Star and '90s-era Cat Power; making them a Brooklyn buzz band that doesn't sound like a stereotypical Brooklyn buzz band.

20. Youth Lagoon

Youth Lagoon
Fat Possum
When the year began, Trevor Powers was just a humble college kid at Boise State in Idaho. He was an utterly unknown musical commodity, a bedroom-recording artist who'd spent most of his 21st year holed up recording, making music intimate and personal. Yet, when he threw a couple of MP3s online early in 2011, his fortunes quickly changed: Youth Lagoon, Powers' pet project, swiftly embraced by online behemoths Pitchfork and ending up on blogs everywhere. It was an unexpected turn-of-events given how whisper-quiet Powers' piano ballads are; the track that 'broke' him, "July," being barely audible for its first minute. Powers was going to self-release his debut LP The Year of Hibernation, but Fat Possum splashed some cash around when it was clear this was one of the albums of the year.
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