Music  |  Lists

The 20 Best New Bands of 2011

December 7, 2011  |  7:45am

Our Best New Artist considerations are a little different than the Grammys so you won’t see Bon Iver. You also won’t see artists that broke bigger this year but have been covered in Paste before (like Cults, Givers, tUnE-yArDs, Reptar, Yuck and Lord Huron—some of whom were named among our Best New Bands of 2010). You won’t even see new bands made up of already established musicians (sorry Middle Brother, Wild Flag and Mister Heavenly) or solo artists (who’ll be getting their own list next week). What you will find is some great music from some exciting young bands that were brand new to us this year. Here are the 20 Best New Bands of 2011.

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20. The Lumineers
Hometown: Denver
Members: Wesley Schultz (vocals/guitar/piano), Jeremiah Fraites (drums, yells), Neyla Peckarek (cello, piano)
**For Fans Of:* The Head and the Heart, Ryan Adams, The Avett Brothers

Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites forged their band from the sparks of pain and built upon that foundation with a persevering gleam of hope, so it’s fitting that the band’s name is an imaginary term for the shine that comes from porcelain veneers used in dentistry. Schultz and Fraites grew up in the same small town in Ramsey, N.J., but it wasn’t until Fraites’ older brother, also Schultz’s good friend, lost his life to a drug overdose that The Lumineers were formed.

After a short stint paying their dues to the New York music scene, on a whim, the two of them decided to uproot to Denver. The first order of business was to place an ad for a cello player. That’s when they found their missing link, the charming Neyla Pekarek. The trio then went on to mix and master their own seven-track EP, an impressive at-home venture. Now, gearing up for the release of a debut album around the new year, they have a few wishes. “Get a bigger van—we’re in a soccer mom van with LUMINRS vanity plates,” Shultz says. “Make music that makes you smile, cry and stomp your foot simultaneously. Make music for years with these dear friends of mine. Be proud of our music. Play Letterman and Europe.”—Alexandra Fletcher

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19. Generationals
Hometown: New Orleans
Band Members: Ted Joyner (vocals, guitar), Grant Widmer (guitars, vocals)
Album: Actor-Caster
For Fans Of: Apples In Stereo, Dr. Dog, The Strokes

New Orleans indie-pop duo Generationals released their second full-length album, Actor-Caster, several months before we talked to them for our “Best of What’s Next” issue. But guitarist/vocalist Grant Widmer, while flattered by the recognition, isn’t even sure what the title means: “Is that something that’s usually used to describe a debut album or something? It definitely feels cool, though—better than being ‘Best of What Used to Be.’”

Widmer and partner Ted Joyner have a connection that’s deeper than ever. But, as Widmer attests, being in a band with your best friend “is a tricky balance to walk. I definitely think it would be easier sometimes to have two people who have a sheerly professional relationship—because then there wouldn’t be any reason not to just lay it all out there. And I think we did have to navigate through that when we first started. But where we are now, we have confidence in what we’re doing that no amount of criticism from the other guy is going to wound our egos that much. … We’ve kind of joined our artistic visions to the point where, if there’s any kind of criticism, it’s coming from the place of trying to make sure the vision is clear and that the album that comes out is going to be as good as possible.”—Ryan Reed

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18. Caveman
Hometown: New York
Band Members: Matthew Iwanusa, Jimmy Carbonetti, Stefan Marolachakis, Sam Hopkins, Jeff Berrall
Album: Coco Beware
For Fans Of: Andrew Bird, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, The National

“Listenable” is the best way to describe Caveman’s debut album, CoCo Beware. The album, with all of its clacking drums, gently strummed rail-thin guitars and careful, pleasant melodies, is instantly catchy and likable on a first listen. Songs like “Decide” “Thankful” and “Easy Water”—easily the album’s standout cuts—plod along like lazy, slowed-down versions of early Shins tracks, and that’s a great thing.

Frontman Matthew Iwanusa’s relaxed take on guitar-based rock is a unique sound that isn’t really trying to offend or take any unexpected twists or turns. Instead, the album is almost comforting by creating instantly recognizable, hummable melodies that feel just as familiar on the first listen as they do the 10th. It’s a strong, cohesive opening statement from a group of talented musicians that only gets better with repeated listens.—Tyler Kane

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17. The Belle Brigade
Hometown: Los Angeles
Band Members: Ethan Gruska, Barbara Gruska
Album: The Belle Brigade
For Fans Of: The Indigo Girls, Simon & Garfunkel, The Everly Brothers

There’s nothing particularly complicated about The Belle Brigade. The band, made up of brother/sister duo Ethan and Barbara Gruska, writes simple songs about common themes like being in love, loneliness and feeling like an outcast. But it works.

The most ear-pleasing quality of the band is the way their DNA-sharing vocal chords are able to vibrate perfectly together, creating full, textured harmonies that seem to rise above the instrumentation while flowing along it. There is certainly something about familial bonds and the way they provide an added connectivity in music that’s just not present in other acts. The album’s best song “Losers” is an excellent example of this. It transforms a straightforward acoustic guitar and vocal piece into a powerful, anthemic rejection of societal opinions concerning those it deems not up to snuff.

The Belle Brigade is a fine debut albumfull of breezy melodies straight from the highways of California; it’s damn near impossible not to bob along to the freewheeling music the pair has compiled for this first LP. There’s sure to be more of the same to look forward to in the future.—Wyndham Wyeth

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16. Rubblebucket
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Members: Alex Toth (Trumpet/Vocals/Bandleader), Kalmia Traver (Lead Vocals/Tenor Sax), Adam Dotson (Trombone/Vocals), Dave Cole (Drums), Darby Wolf (Keyboards), Craig Myers (Percussion), Mark Stewart (Bass), Ian Hersey (Guitar)
Album: Omega La La
For Fans Of: Dirty Projectors, Fela Kuti, Vampire Weekend

For Rubblebucket vocalist Kalmia Traver and her gang—including bandleader/trumpet player (and Traver’s boyfriend) Alex Toth—the exhausting exchange of performance, of devoting one’s entire body and spirit to music, is what makes life worthwhile. They’ve been categorized by the curious genre tag “yes-wave,” a label used to describe bands who are both good at their instruments and project positive vibes. But Rubbebucket are pretty hard to pin-down sonically—their line-up sports an array of horns, keys, and percussion; their dense soundscapes are equally hooky and technical, bouncing from sublime pop hooks (like on the effortless back-porch soul of “Raining”) to rhythmically challenging clatter (the furious synth-twitch breakdown that propels the second half of “Breatherz”). The tunes aren’t easily pigeonholed into jam-band, funk, or indie rock scenes, so “yes-wave” might just be as good a description as any—but Traver isn’t worried about labels in the first place.

“It’s hard for us to find a home within any genre,” Traver says. “And you can spin that good or bad. And that’s actually been a frustration of mine. You meet somebody on the street, and they ask, ‘What kind of band are you?’ It takes so many sentences to explain it, but that being said, ‘yes-wave’ doesn’t really explain anything at all. So I just think it’s funny, and I also connect with that word, ‘yes-wave.’ It sounds fun, and from what I understand, the spirit behind it is sort of what we’re all about, which is being good at your instruments and really devoting a lot of time to mastering the music, and then being positive and sending ‘yes’ energy out into the world.”—Ryan Reed

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