Artists to Watch in 2011

2010 kicked off a new decade of music with remarkable panache, laying significant groundwork for new bands, sub-genres, and avenues of music distribution while marking the end of an era for many musicians whose work defined the last decade. LCD Soundsystem called it quits, Gorillaz shifted from style to substance, Robyn rightly ascended to dancefloor dominance, and Kanye finally created something grander than him. Evidently, 2010 heaped quite a lot of pressure on 2011—our new year has a lot to live up to. We’ll now take a brief look at what the coming months promise for new music with three artists to look at:

James Blake

Blake hardly needs any introduction: his trilogy of EPs released in 2010—The Bells Sketch, CMYK, and Klavierwerke—easily earned him a spot among the year’s most exciting new artists. On CMYK’s title track, he melded mangled versions of Aaliyah’s “Are U That Somebody,” and Kelis’s “Caught Out There” with a haunting electronic ping refrain and jittery dubstep rhythms to create a murky but mesmerizing piece of electronic music. His self-titled debut, released just two weeks ago, finds the 21-year old London-born producer cranking his delicate baritone through enough auto-tune and pitch modulation to make T-Pain blush. The album’s inventive compositions frequently lean on negative space as basically just another instrument in an endless repertoire of synthesized sounds. The result, enigmatic but powerfully compelling, speaks to Blake’s potential as one of 2011’s brightest young acts.

Cults

Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin make up New York City’s Cults, whose modest three-song 7”, self-titled and self-released, managed to spark enough blog hype in one day to earn Pitchfork’s illustrious “Best New Music” rating. The opening track on 7”, “Go Outside,” introduces an innocent glockenspiel into a summer haze while ripples of synth paint it over in sun-baked pastels. The vocals, sugary but distant, evoke the sing-along 60s twee-girl pop of the Shangri-Las or the Angels. However, beneath the glee and gloss of it all, a haunting ambiance shrouds the song, evidenced by an opening sample of Jonestown cult leader Jim Jones preaching about death. For a band with only three songs to its name, Cults gathered enough hype last year to earn not only a spot supporting Sleigh Bells on tour, but a highly-anticipated set at this year’s Coachella.

Odd Future

If you tuned in to Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last Thursday, it’s more than likely the show’s bizarre musical guests left a lasting impression.

“They’re turning heads in the hip-hop world,” Fallon explained before introducing two masked MCs named Tyler The Creator and Hodgy Beats. Spitting sardonic rhymes over a haunted-house beat courtesy of The Roots, the two rappers—flanked by a creepy girl in hospital garb—commanded the stage with a charmed confidence rarely found in artists making their television debut. Tyler The Creator and Hodgy Beats represent a Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective entitled “Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All,” or Odd Future for short. Since its inception two years ago, the group boasts seven solo albums and three mixtapes, enough to garner some major press attention as well as a cult following. Dabbling in smart, self-conscious, but shockingly obscene hip-hop, Odd Future is slated to perform as a full collective at Primavera Sound in Spain as well as Coachella.

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