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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15. Kopecky Family Band
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Members: Kelsey Kopecky (vocals, keys), Gabe Simon (vocals/guitar), Corey Oxendine (bass), Markus Midkiff (cello), Steven Holmes (violin), David Krohn (drums)
Album: The Disaster EP
For Fans Of: Arcade Fire, Stars, Eisley

The Kopecky Family Band isn’t actually a family, whatever Google would have you think. Despite multiple search results for Gabe Kopecky, the vocalist and guitar player actually has the decidedly less Polish surname of Simon. The band’s namesake derives singularly from Kelsey Kopecky, a maternal-yet-feisty songstress who spends days off babysitting for her booking agent.

Still, the six-piece outfit is a close coterie of friends. In fact, Simon attributes their songwriting prowess to the ability to perform a Vulcan mind meld of sorts. “[Kelsey] and I have this natural ability to sing together and predict what each other will end up doing,” says Simon. “One time we were on this writing retreat and started signing the exact same melody at the exact same time. It wasn’t another song, it was something we both came up with,” he said.

While the Family has four or five new demos and is working on four or five more, they don’t expect their debut full length to come until next year.—Allie Conti

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14. Tennis
Hometown: Denver
Band Members: Patrick Riley, Alaina Moore
Album: Cape Dory
For Fans Of: Best Coast, Neko Case, The Four Seasons

Landlocked in Denver, Tennis’ Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore had almost no sailing experience when they first decided to venture out on the open ocean. But a lack of sea legs was no match for the couple’s thirst for adventure and desire to live minimally. They began devoting every spare hour to the study of all things nautical. “We would test each other at breakfast,” Riley says, “tie knots during lunch, and talk about hypothetical situations during dinner. It literally had taken over our lives.”

Once he and Moore had consumed every textbook they could find on the subject, they dipped into their life savings and cast off on an epic voyage. After spending more than half a year together on their boat, the adventurers returned home to find that life on the high seas had changed them. “We ran into an issue,” Riley says, “with not being able to communicate our experiences with sailing to the community around us. Friends and family couldn’t possibly understand things like having coffee at 6:00am while a sting-ray jumps out of the water just in front of your bow. We found ourselves with such heavy nostalgia that we had to funnel it somewhere. That place was music.”

Rily and Moore began writing and recording songs inspired by their journey. The project has resulted in debut Cape Dory, a record about exploration, devotion and life on the ocean, all set to sunshine melodies and the rhythm of the waves.—Wyndham Wyeth

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13. David Wax Museum
Hometown: Boston, Mass.
Members: David Wax and Suz Slezak
Album: Everything Is Saved
For Fans Of: Calexico, The Low Anthem, Devotchka

It’s with that same sort of relentless mentality that David Wax Museum approaches its live craft. In 2010 alone, David Wax and Suz Slezak played over 200 shows, welcoming everything from house parties to major music festivals. As rigorous as their touring schedule was, the members of David Wax Museum flourished as performers as the result of playing night in and night out. “I think that really helped us hone our live show,” Wax admits. “It really helped us come into our own as a live band.”

While the Boston-based folk duo recorded a good portion of its latest record Everything Is Saved in early 2010, David Wax and Suz Slezak spent much of the year testing and tweaking their songs in front of their audiences. As a result, their record exudes a sense of confidence stemming from a lengthy process of musical trial and error, blending a seamless mix of Mexican and American folk into the group’s triumphant sound. Wax’s immersion in Mexican folk music jumps out at first listen. After traveling to Mexico through a fellowship to study son mexicano, he absorbed the informal musical teaching process through learning by ear and playing along with others. Although David Wax Museum technically can be considered a duo, David Wax Museum has performed with over 10 people at a time, mirroring the sonic swells innate within the band’s songs.—Max Blau

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12. Of Monsters and Men
Hometown: Reykjavik, Iceland
Members: Ragnar þórhallsson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Árni Guðjónsson (accordion, keys), Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir (acoustic guitar, vocals), Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson (drums), Kristján Páll Kristjánsson (bass), Brynjar Leifsson (electric guitar)
Album: My Head Is An Animal
For Fans Of: Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, The xx

It all began back in 2010, when Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir decided to add more members to her then-solo project. With three more members, Of Monsters and Men entered last year’s The Icelandic Music Experiments: Músiktilraunir, a nationwide “battle of the bands” competition. Hilmarsdóttir and her new bandmates won over the audience—and the judges—with their catchy number “Little Talks,” and went on to win the entire competition.

After Músiktilraunir, the folk-pop quartet decided to expand its sound by adding two more members. Of Monsters and Men then began playing at venues around Iceland, taking over Iceland’s airwaves with “Little Talks” and earning a strong fan-base. Over the past year, the band has expanded its fanbase worldwide—its Facebook page shows requests to play gigs from the United States to England to Australia thanks to the YouTube video for the band’s single “Little Talks,” which has received over 180,000 views. The feedback, the group says, is part of what keeps them performing. “We like talking to people that like our music, we like hearing from them,” says þórhallsson. “We love making music for them.”—Caitlin Peterkin

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11. WU LYF
Hometown: Manchester, England
Band Members: Evans Kati, Thomas David Francis McClung, Ellery James Roberts, Joseph Louis Harlan Manning
Album: Go Tell Fire To the Mountain
For Fans Of: My Morning Jacket, Muse, Sigur Rós

For all the start-up bands out there trying to chase down a record deal or get a talent scout to one of their gigs, the four lads in WU LYF have been doing the opposite. When their song “Heavy Pop” showed up on the blog Gorilla vs. Bear at the end of 2009, there was little information to accompany it. As the buzz built, they ducked and dodged it, declining all interview requests and releasing a band photo showing a group of unidentified people in balaclavas. When labels came calling, they charged £50 for a copy of their demo, while charging fans a single quid to get into shows. And according to NME, they “told one legendary scout, ‘We’re on at 11 p.m. Don’t be late.’ He arrived at 10 to be informed they’d finished at nine.”

But for all the mischief and mystery, they’ve come out of hiding on their own terms, releasing Go Tell Fire to the Mountain. The album marries My Morning Jacket guitars with a wash of keyboards that wouldn’t be out of place on a Sigur Rós record. Punctuating it all are Roberts’ desperately barked lyrics about brotherhood, love and not selling out.

A year ago, they hadn’t played a show outside Manchester, but this past summer’s tour stops included France, Switzerland, Portugal, Japan, Sweden, Norway, Belgium and the U.S. Plus, there’s another record already in the works.—Josh Jackson

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