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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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10. Phantogram
Hometown: Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Band Members: Sarah Barthel, Josh Carter
Album: Eyelid Movies
For Fans Of: The XX, Beach House, Cocteau Twins

The general consensus is that electronic-pop duo Phantogram materialized from the ether, emerging from nowhere to produce the type of danceable tracks Salvador Dali might craft if he traded his paintbrush for a drum machine and analog synthesizer. This is nearly the truth; Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter’s “nowhere” is the obscure New York town of Saratoga Springs. The pair had no pedigree as previous members of lauded bands or grand industry connections when they wrote the songs that became 2010’s sleeper success story Eyelid Movies.

“We weren’t planning on making a debut record,” Barthel says. “Technically it was supposed to be our demo. It just caught on a lot faster than we expected.” The vocalist and keyboardist explains this with an air of disbelief in her voice while Phantogram prepares to soundcheck before their sold-out headlining show in Denver, a mere 1,800 miles from their quaint upstate New York home.

Common threads permeate Phantogram’s catalog—synthetic beats, organic guitar lines, Barthel’s angelic alto and Carter’s urgent tenor—but songs never run together. “Josh and I always want to keep things moving,” Sarah says. “We admire The Beatles, how every single song sounded different but it worked so well together. We’re always inspired and influenced by so many different artists that I don’t think we even could make all our songs sound the same,” she says.—Ryan Wasoba

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9. The Vaccines
Hometown: London
Members: Justin Young (vocals), Árni Hjörvar (bass), Freddie Cowan (guitar) and Pete Robertson (drums)
Album: What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?
For Fans Of: The Strokes, The Ramones, Interpol

Guitar rock is still alive and well in the U.K., with a new quartet of kids stirring things up in the British press every other week. This particular version hasn’t reinvented rock ’n’ roll, but they’ve sure kept it entertaining. Justin Young and Freddie Cowan started making music together about a year and a half ago, but it wasn’t until May of last year that the rhythm section came into place. A driving minute-and-a-half single “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra),” an appearance on Jools Holland and a record deal with Columbia later, and they’re poised to stir things up on this side of the pond, too.—Josh Jackson

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8. The Joy Formidable
Hometown: North Wales, U.K.
Band Members: Ritzy Bryan, Rhydian Dafydd, Matt Thomas
Album: The Big Roar
For Fans Of: Editors, Mew, Evanescence

The Big Roar couldn’t be a more aptly titled debut for The Joy Formidable. The album’s first song “The Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie” is such a tidal wave of crashing drums, heavy guitar and lead singer Ritzy Bryan’s harsh/soft vocals, that it’s exhausting by the time it’s over. Joy Formidable sounds like a band made for large arenas and even larger crowds. Fittingly, Foo Fighters chose them for their arena-packing tour this year, and after with their sound evoking Metric and the best of ’90s-era rock, it’s hard to imagine any stadium not left a little shaken even before Dave Grohl and co. took the stage.

The Big Roar never relents, with standout tracks like “Whirring” and the album’s perfect closer “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade.” Bryan’s vocals and the intense instrumentation blend beautifully throughout. The album would be great to utilize more of Dafydd, possibly giving the band a bit of an The xx feel, but we can always hope for the follow-up. The Joy Formidable create a sound that is uniquely their own, but nostalgic for rock of the past. If The Joy Formidable keeps making releases like this, they’ll be headlining those same venues soon enough.—Ross Bonaime

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7. Seryn
Hometown: Denton, Texas
Band Members: Trenton Wheeler, Nathan Allen, Aaron Stoner, Chelsea Bohrer, Chris Semmelbeck
Album: This Is Where We Are
For Fans Of: Mumford & Sons, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bruce Cockburn

The Denton, Texas, house where singer/banjoist/accordionist Trenton Wheeler, guitarist/banjoist Nathan Allen and bassist/cellist/trumpeter Aaron Stoner live also serves as Seryn’s studio, writing and rehearsal space. As highlighted by all those slashes, everyone in the band plays multiple instruments and sings along, which has come in handy in Denton’s thriving music community, where friends often jump up on stage with one another.

“It’s still like a small town, but everyone plays music,” Allen says. “There’s so much going on, and it’s not commercialized. There’s a pizza place in town where you can just go up to the counter, grab the calendar and write your name down on a date, and you’re playing a show there that day. So, you can play in front of people, and invite your friends, and kind of have a chance to make god-awful music in front of people enough times that you start figuring out what’s not god-awful.”

Seryn’s live presence—with each member swapping instruments and all five singing choruses at the top of their lung—can best be described as “joyful,” causing Paste to name their performance the best of this year’s SXSW and their song “We Will All Be Changed” one of the Best of 2011 (So Far).

“It’s so much fun, especially in the writing process when we’re picking up everything from some piano, kalimbas to clarinets and trombones and harmonicas,” says Wheeler. “Our studio and where we rehearse, it’s kind of like a middle school band hall. It’s just got a little bit of everything from the kiddie shakers and tambourines to what you would hear in concert bands and then random things like pump organs. In our living room, we actually have a marimba, a piano, a vibraphone, and I think five organs, half of which are working.”—Josh Jackson

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6. Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
Band Members: Sallie Ford, Jeff Munger, Ford Tennis, Tyler Tornfelt
Album: Dirty Radio
For Fans Of: Those Darlins, Buck Owens, The Cramps

Sallie Ford isn’t content with the state of modern music. If this isn’t clear from the hints of Etta James and others greats who came before her, Ford comes right out and says so in the opening track of Dirty Radio. “When I turn on the radio, it all sounds the same,” she laments in the first line of “I Swear.” “What have these people done to music? I just don’t care anymore.”

Ford sounds almost exasperated with the situation as she huffs and puffs her way through the song, and her solution to this quandary seems to be to take a look through her mom’s record collection. But rather than simply imitating her diverse influences, Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside decided to take a little bit of Bessie Smith and mix it with a dash of Tom Waits. The result is a delicious goulash of rockabilly and blues with just enough punk attitude to separate Ford’s sound from all the other homage-rock bands out there.—Wyndham Wyeth

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