Hazzah! It's time to recap the year was ... and it was ... alright. As I gather my thoughts on 2011, There wasn't an overall theme that comes to mind. I mostly think of the crap that was unleashed upon us, but it's holiday. Let's be positive, starting with the new music from debut artists.
All U.K.-based bands for this year's Top 5. The U.S. just wasn't churning out the quality bands and artists in 2011. As you'll see in my upcoming "Worst of2011" post, we got some explaining to do.
My definition of new acts is that the band released an EP or debut album this year. Acts like Dry the River and The Good Natured will have to wait until next year. In any event, here's a quality crop of new sounds that I hope will be making us rock for years to come.
5. Still Corners -- I first heard of the band back in 2008 when they release an song called "History of Love". It was straight-up early 60s nostaliga right from Twin Peaks. They did Cults before Cults were Cults. What struck me about the song was that wicked theramin sound underneath that would rear its ugly head between choruses. It would be very sweet, then in comes this harsh melody. It worked. Fast forward to 2011, and they've evolved into a beautiful, beat-driven outift that molds the drive of Stereolab and the shoe-gazing of Jesus & Mary Chain. Creatures Of An Hour, their debut album on Sub Pop, makes you feel like a cooler person for listening to it. They had to back out of their U.S. tour with The War on Drugs, but they should be back next Spring.
4. Veronica Falls -- From the ashes of Glasgow's The Royal We sprung Veronica Falls. With their boy/girl vocals, they swoon with their the surf rock via shoegaze music. Their debut album sneaks up on you, and it's a reason why in this digital age that you listen to an album from front to back in the order the artist chooses. It starts off sweet and melodic. Once you settle in, you get punched in the nuts with the full-blown rock out tune, "Sleepy Head". While Scotland is known as the land of Twee with Belle & Sebastian, Veronica Falls gives the scene a new kick in the ass.
3. The Vaccines -- As fast as you can say, "Hey, have you heard this new band?" The Vaccines had signed to a major before even releasing a proper single. It didn't even give the band a chance for tastemakers to declare them the best thing ever and over-hyped them to annoying levels. Leaving all that aside, Justin Young and Co. delivered a firecrack of an album, full of hitmaking songs that clock in at only two or three minutes. Catchy tunes + a sense of urgency = instant fun.
2. Yuck -- As with Veronica Falls, Yuck members came from another band, the teenage post-punk London outfit, Cajun Dance Party. They were a great discovery this year with their throwback sound to early 90s alt-rock made popular by Dinosaur Jr., Yo La Tengo, Pavement and Teenage Fanclub. They might have broken into a musical vault, because they've discovered the secret formula for creating that sound. You listen to The Wall and you think it was a lost relic of that time.
1. Anna Calvi -- A new brainer for the year's best new artist. After seeing her debut U.S. show at Johnny Brenda's, she was the clear-cut most talented singer-songwriter I've seen in recent memory. Underneath her small stature and striking face lies a lioness. Her guitar skills are impressive to say the least. She reminds me of Annie Clark, both unassuming personalities who can shred and unleash some serious guitar licks. Her debut album played like the sountrack to a modern Spaghetti Western. Leave it to a Brit to do American rock better than the Americans can.
And now for the rest ...
The runner-up goes to another foreign band, Wu Lyf. The Manchester band started out as a mystery, no press photos or website. You could say that it was a reaction to the over-hyped nature of modern music, or maybe a bit of showmanship. Eventually, the band revealed themselves with a series of underground shows. Today, they do the radio sessions, photo shoots and interviews. More importantly, Go Tell Fire To the Mountain was a gut-wrenching, stick a knife in your heart album filled with bombastic and emotional rock tunes. Their live shows were just as dramatic as their music, with Evans Kati belting out the tunes as if his life depended on it.
The best of the rest (in alphabetical order)
Cults -- The local duo made darkly sweet retro 60s girl group pop that made you want to join their ... urrrr ... cult.
Dirty Beaches -- Just a man (Alex Zhang Hungtai) with a guitar, microphone, loop pedals and an attitude.
Frankie and the Heartstrings -- My boys never came back to the U.S. this year, but they create insanely fun indie pop for the extrovert in all of us.
The Head and The Heart -- If I had to pin a best new American band of the year on somebody, It would be on this Seattle six-piece who make chilling folk music with a lot of richness.
Lanterns on the Lake -- LIke The Head and The Heart, UK's Lanterns on the Lake rely on strength in numbers. While you can pinpoint all the inspiration of H&H, Lanterns take notes from all genres (avant-garde and traditional) to create their take on Americana.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra -- The headiest new band of the year has many tricks up their sleeves. If it was weird and sounded like a drug-trip, they put on their debut album.