Bands to Watch 2011 :: Ben Van Houten, The Bay Bridged

Meet Ben, co-founder and programming director of San Francisco’s esteemed The Bay Bridged, a non-profit arts organization and online music publication chartered to educate the world on the awesomeness of the Bay Area’s independent music scene. And we love them for it. They curate some great showcases and festivals around town and make The City a better place musically. Here are Ben’s picks for the (mostly) Bay Area bands to watch in 2011. And for the record, I agree with all of them.

Artist: Young Prisms
Album: Friends For Now
Release Date: 1/18/11
Homeland: San Francisco, CA

I always associate this SF band with Weekend because I saw them both for the first time on a joint bill at the Hemlock beginning of last year. If Weekend was last year’s breakout local shoegazey rock group, Young Prisms deserve to fill that slot in 2011. After an EP on Mexican Summer, the band’s full length Friends for Now is out this month. The record’s a little heavier than I expected, and that’s a good thing. A lot of these reverb-soaked bands are too thin and brittle to make enough of a racket.

Artist: Exray’s
Album: Exray’s
Release Date: 2/1/11
Homeland: San Francisco, CA

Jon Bernson (Ray’s Vast Basement, Window Twins) is one of these can’t-miss artists for me, and Exray’s manages to incorporate his singer-songwriter and electronic pastiche sides into one compelling project. Are they garage pop or abstract beatmakers? Both. You probably heard this duo’s music in the movie The Social Network, or you’ve seen their name around the blogs recently, gaining buzz before the anticipated release of their self-titled full length.

Artist: Bare Wires
Album: Seeking Love
Release Date: Out Now
Homeland: Oakland, CA

I feel like Seeking Love didn’t get the, um, love it deserved last year, although it may have been unreasonable to hope that “I Love You Tonite” would be blasting out of every stereo all summer. Well, there’s still next summer, although Matthew Melton and band apparently have another album coming out soon. I know the Bay Area has a bunch of garage rock bands, but these guys write amazing pop songs about love with hooks aplenty.

Artist: Sea of Bees
Album: Songs for the Ravens
Release Date: Out Now
Homeland: Sacramento, CA

Sea of Bees became one of our favorite new artists last year over at The Bay Bridged, the latest in a long track record of great performers from the Sacramento/Davis area. Jules’ voice is unbelievably emotive, and when she conveys sadness, you feel it in your gut. Late last year, she signed to a UK label, and is doing a ton of European shows in the first quarter of this year. It would not surprise me at all if she’s a deservedly bigger name when she finally returns to California.

Artist: Kurt Vile
Album: Smoke Ring For My Halo
Release Date: 3/8/11
Homeland: Philadelphia, PA

I had to sneak at least one non-local artist in my list. I recognize that there’s a certain obviousness to picking any band with a big upcoming record on Matador as a “band to watch,” but Vile’s definitely become someone I’m expecting to have a big 2011. I’d slept on Childish Prodigy, but between last year’s Square Shells EP (find me a seven-minute song as good as psych-pop gem “Invisibility: Nonexistent”) and the songs that have leaked from the new album, I’m definitely more ready this time around. I suspect Vile will be this year’s Fresh & Onlys, showing that weird pop can be recorded well and still maintain its eccentric charm.

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