2011 has shared an abundance of musical troupes. We’ve seen the continual rise of the DJ, followed the battle between folk rock and rock and watched as collaborations have seemingly formed new club drops. Here are some choice picks for 2011’s best breakouts and albums.

Young Galaxy
Hails From: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Affiliation: Paperbag Records

Earlier in 2011 Young Galaxy released an animated video for “We Have Everything”, the first single off their album Shapeshifting. Created by Sinbad Richardson, the video gave audiences a nice introduction into the loopy cheek of the band’s dynamic. Nominated for a Polaris Award, touring alongside Austra and producing their own nifty remix compilation—the band doesn’t leave time for you to bore.

After releasing various reworks throughout the year, in November Young Galaxy dropped Versus, which included their completed remixes of songs by Handsome Furs, Junior Boys, Freedom or Death and labelmates Austra and CFCF. The 11-track album is free for download here. All this added to the previously released remixes of their own tracks whipped together by artists like Cotton Mouth, Adam & The Amethysts and Grimes. When chatting with Steven Ramsey (one third of YG) back in March he said remixing was something of great interest to the band.

“It became really cool to see how we could take songs and incorporate different elements and also wanted to see how some of the artists we tour, like, and work with took our songs and changed the composition and vice versa – it is pure fun. We’re at a time in our career where we are open to new ways to listen to our music and welcome the change.”

Must Hear Track: Austra – Spellwork [Young Galaxy Remix]

Hails From: Toronto, ON, Canada
Affiliation: Unsigned/Independent

“I make bass music – originals, covers and remixes from Phil Collins to Necro” is what you’ll read when you check out the Toronto act’s Soundcloud page. Looking for new rhythms and not your typical played out drops? Sageone creates a wash of ambiance with pockets of sheer dance floor bass. It’s clear Sageone has a thing for the classics—Pink Floyd, Dead Prez and Fugees are some of the reworks included in his set list.

Partnering with Toronto MC Evidence, Sageone released a chillstep remix that caught the attention of NME. Take an average grind-heavy dubstep track, smooth it out, add in some groove and minimal warp frequency and you get why this sound works. Dubstep doesn’t always need to be surrounded around the drop.
Must Hear Track: Pink Floyd – High Hopes [Sageone [dubstep] remix]

Hails From: New York / California, USA
Affiliation: The Windish Agency

Guards recently made a stop in Toronto while on tour promoting their EP, GUARDS. This Brooklyn-based band summons ’70s rock that’s downright catchy. No B.S. just a lot of hair. Some bands get the elaborate quotes that speak of their depth, their range, their luminous discovery of soul and then publications like The Guardian rave, “It’s pretty fucking impressive,” and everyone just nods. This is the case with these scuzz kings and queen.

“You’re in for an interesting one” was what I was told when heading backstage to speak to Richie and the band. From finding out about an alluring new kind of Doritos [one that is apparently not available in Canada] to being thrown into a web of inside jokes – the band has a sense of togetherness that’s infectious.

Earlier in the year the band put out a Cover Songs 7” that featured haunting covers of Vampire Weekend’s “Taxi Cab” and Metallica’s “Motobreath.” These covers along with tracks like “resolution of one” push an unscripted approach to music production complete with background commentary and gritty rock. Check out their performance of “resolution of one” on Fuel TV here.

2011 needed a group like Guards. Dubbed one of the top 30 bands of CMJ, Guards received shout-outs from NPR and the Washington Post, performed in Daytrotter and MTV Hive Sessions and just finished touring with Deer Tick.

In early December Guards released a new single “Do It Again” produced by Fool’s Gold’s Lewis Pesacov. Do It Again / Feels Like 7” is out now on White Iris.

Guards are Richie James Follin, Loren Ted Humphrey, Kaylie Church and John Fredericks. Richie also plays guitar alongside his sis [Madeline Follin] in Cults.
Must Hear Track: I see it coming

Little Red
Hails From: Melbourne, Australia
Affiliation: True Panther

You like pop-rock bands that can sing and play their instruments well. You like to think. You love to dance. You sometimes think you’re still 16, but cherish that you’re not. Enter Little Red.
The Melbourne boys have been phrased as “Beach Boys meets Cut Copy,” fusing a five-person medley of harmonic rock tunes and bold sass. Their LP, Midnight Remember was released on October 25th and strays quite drastically from their previous album, which harnessed a more garage-rock feel. The boys passed through Toronto just days after the release to play the Drake Underground, which in itself is a real gem being that this is their first time in Canada.  Times Online describes The Drake as:

“This place has glam rock and lush style. It’s nonchalant, sophisticated, artfully retro and an air of cheeky naughtiness.”

And Little Red pretty much packed it.

Midnight Remember (which I kept saying ‘Midnight to Remember’ in the interview) includes, “Lots of frozen moments, little vignettes of incidences in life and is kind of about savouring life, love and desire a lot as well,” states primary songwriter Dominic Byrne. “Every song is saying I want something.”

Little Red stir up those forgotten heartbeats in a playful direction similar to the likes of Foster the People. They tell a story, perhaps your story, through a series of visual serenades that sharpen and soothe through romantic vocals and charming musicianship. And they love playing Scattegories.
Must Hear Track: Rock It

Kev Willow
Hails From: Liverpool, Britain [UK]
Affiliation: Viral Beat Recordings [self label]

It was his impressive take on Chase & Status’s “Time” track that led the Liverpooler to claim a top remix prize, beating out thousands.

But, it is his overt originality that keeps you sifting through mixes drenched in dubstep, house and Moombahton. Kev Willow, formerly The Prototype, compiles a mix of fuzzed-washed symphonies with gutter bass-driven drops. It’s no wonder he is working alongside English grime outfit, Hadouken. Quick to know trends yet true to the technical craft of mastering chilled and throbbing tracks, Kev Willow may be young, but so what? His confidence can be seen in his production and also in one of his many online tutorials that he offers up for free, even doing one-on-one training. Challenging himself in styles like electro complextro and moombahcore, the 20-something producer continues to release banging tracks and smart compilations.

Snag his free EP here.
Make sure to keep a look out for his collaborative track with MC Whizzkid, expected in 2012.

He also just put out a Christmas Cracker EP.
Must Hear Track: Staffy & Maverick – Chucked Love [The Prototype Remix]

Listen to Kev Willow’s winning remix entry.

Gabrielle Papillon
Hails From: Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Affiliation: Audioblood

The Currency of Poetry presents a songbook of swirling beauty where each story is elegantly organized from lyrical prose to delivery. Gabrielle Papillon has a hook that clasps a handle on the heart– she simply breathes vocals. Gabrielle Papillon’s approach to music is similar to the likes of Laura Marling (a personal favourite), particularly in the songwriting. Both artists exude a sultry sincerity that steers you on a journey through circumstance.

With three cross-Canada tours under her belt and past opening slots for Royal Wood and Jill Barber, Papillon continues to sing songs where every word becomes important. Recorded mostly out of the Treatment Room [Stars, Timber Timbre], The Currency of Poetry wraps together coming of age songs such as “Like We Go Together” and “One Small Frame” with tell tales like “Outlaws and Criminals.” Songwriting should never be overlooked or undermined and this is one songwriter to look at, again and again.
Must Hear Track: Common Ground

John LaMonica
Hails From: Lawrence, KS, USA
Affiliation: Moodgadget

John LaMonica has been doing the music thing for over a decade only you may not know which name he recorded under. Having more than 10 official releases with additional collaborations, remixes and songwriting credits, John LaMonica’s production quality is clever, but so to is his morphing vocals that tighten up each song.

“Glitchy folktronica” “claustrophobic” and “peaceful” are how some sources have classified his work. Others place a strong comparison to Thom Yorke. Listen to the track “Wolf Protestor” and perhaps you’ll hear the parallels. On stage John LaMonica becomes lost in shakes and thoughts, but surprises with quick banter and loveable allure. It feels like you’re in the basement listening to records with that creative guy from high school—the one you just like to be around.

Building off a predominately electronic template, LaMonica controls his ballooning falsetto to create a unique tunnel cluster sound. The drone-like bass amplifies fusing contagious melodic mood music with shifts of synth equalizers.

Volunteers takes the listener through deception, joy and mind trickery leaving a strong impact of contextualized electronica. Always hard to decipher how electro sounds in a live scene, I was pleasantly surprised to see the mood of the crowd at his Toronto show. A very diverse group, most swaying, many not even speaking – it was a room of focus. Volunteers is one of those albums you need and you’ll know this once you have it.
Must Hear Track: The entire album.

Adventure Club
Hails From: Montreal, QC, Canada
Affiliation: Atlantis Music Group

Following in the steps of duos like Zeds Dead, Killabits and the FranDiscos, Adventure Club are two more dubstep plus creators. Christian Srigley & Leighton James formed in the beginning of 2011 emerging with a bevy of sexy-steered dubstep remixes. The consistency and momentum has continued with track counts averaging well into the thousands within hours of being uploaded.

The Montrealers tend to favour female vocals and a chalk work of crass drum and dubstep anthems forming a ‘clubstep’ genre of their own. It’s guys like this that remind how hella fun it must be being the ones behind the decks. From giving away their music for free to continuous fan posts and commentary—Adventure Club has made a smart business out of being talented. They also release fresh mixes of completely different acts (think Britney Spears, Thrice, Temper Trap) and always keep their signature build and blanket of contagious drops. I’ve personally never heard guys enjoy a Britney Spears remix this much.
Must Hear Track: Metric – Collect Call [Adventure Club Remix]

Hails From: Saratoga Springs, New York, USA
Affiliation: Barsuk / Ghostly/ Indica / BBE

The dynamic electro-pop duo creates stadium-worthy songs that infect instantly. It’s quite fitting that they are playing alongside The Flaming Lips on New Years Eve. Comprised of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel, the act just wrapped a North American tour only to soon start 2012 right with tour dates across Europe, making stops in Torino, Berlin and Paris.

If there is one album to get your friend, lover, colleague you like more than you should—get Eyelid Movies. The album offers a front-to-end experience worth reliving during early hours and last minute decisions. The smooth electronic snippets packed with vulnerable chorus chants will seduce without doubt.

Their new vinyl EP Nightlife is available for Pre-Order with a released track, “Don’t Move” giving a first look at what to expect with the album. One twitter follower blasted, “it’s like a cemetery dance party.” Phantogram has a chemistry that awakens a serene sexuality and it begins like it should, with a smile.
Must Hear Track: Let Me Go

Watch Phantogram’s video for ‘When I’m Small’.

Cloud Control
Hails From: Sydney (area), Australia
Affiliations: Ivy League Records / Turn Out Records

“..they have taken the elegant folk harmonies of Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons and given them a boot up the backside with great whooshes of psychedelic rock,” states The Independent.

The BBC furthers, “Essentially, this is some of the most consistent songwriting to come from Australia since the loss of The Go-Betweens, and some of the most arcane performing available anywhere outside of Arcade Fire.”

Cloud Control’s debut album (North America), Bliss Release dropped in the U.S. on November 22nd, months after the band received an Australian Music Award for it. In addition to the above comments, the EP received a stream of praise from Time Out, Q Magazine and Rolling Stone. In the fall of 2011 the band toured North America alongside The Drums. Next up—a December 30th performance as part of the Pyramid Rock Festival (Scissor Sisters, Spank Rock, Dum Dum Girls), a confirmed spot at Field Day 2012, which welcomes the return of Justice and the world premiere of their new show, plus a coveted slot on the NME Awards 2012 series (Band of Skulls, Kurt Vile, Pure Love). And it keeps going with the start of a European tour in February 2012.

Bliss Release is an album that peaks with shoegaze pop and coats with lo-fi indie rock, electric shreds and harmonies a plenty. And to think they all met in high school.
Must Hear Track: The Rolling Stones

*NOTE: Affiliation refers to management, press and booking reps not necessarily label representation. Some of the above artists have affiliations but are not signed to a record label.