Published Dec 15, 2011Back in 2009, it seemed as if all you needed to make a big splash in the blogosphere was a shoddy home recording set up and a fascination with scuzzy distortion, swampy reverb and singing about the beach.
The explosion of this DIY sound meant that many lo-fi artists were suddenly thrust into the spotlight, and several of them signed with prestigious labels and received massive promotional pushes. Now, a couple of years later, these artists have more resources than ever before. This means that they can now afford to ditch their built-in laptop microphones in favour of professional recording studios and big-name producers.
This list covers our favourite artists who successfully made the transition from lo-fi to hi-fi with their albums in 2011. It's inclusive but by no means exclusive (we're sorry, Dum Dum Girls and Smith Westerns), and without further ado, we present Exclaim!'s Top 5 List of Lo-Fi Artists Who Went Hi-Fi in 2011.
Top 5 Lo-Fi Artists Who Went Hi-Fi in 2011:
5. Washed Out
Who: Georgia electro-pop songwriter Enest Greene.
Before 2011: Greene began releasing music under the moniker Washed Out in 2009, and his reverb-hazed EPs High Times and Life of Leisure helped defined the sound de jour that was chillwave.
During 2011: With some help from producer Ben H. Allen (Animal Collective, Deerhunter), Greene went widescreen with sparkling synths and full-bodied beats on Within and Without.
Why We Liked It: While some of his chillwave contemporaries abandoned the genre (Toro y Moi, we're looking at you), Washed Out expanded his sonic palate without straying too far from his signature sound. Upbeat cuts "Eyes Be Closed" and "Amor Fati" are the clear winners here.
4. Cloud Nothings
Who: Cleveland, OH-based Dylan Baldi -- who still isn't old enough to drink his home state -- and his various collaborators.
Before 2011: Starting in 2009, Baldi began issuing a series of low-key (and lo-fi) EPs and singles, and then collected these on the 2010 compilation Turning On.
During 2011: Cloud Nothings' self-titled album came out back in January, marking the project's first official, widely released LP. Even more significantly, Baldi cleaned up his sound with some help from producer Chester Gwazda (Dan Deacon, Future Islands) at a warehouse studio.
Why We Liked It: The production on Cloud Nothings isn't ostentatious or grandiose, but the cleaned-up sound and punchy rhythm section allow Baldi's hooks to shine. What results is a giddily infectious pop punk album that sounds a bit like Wavves without the stoner baggage or Blink-182 without the masturbation jokes. Coming in 2012: an album with Steve Albini. We can't wait.
3. Twin Sister
Who: New York five-piece lead by curiously breathy vocalist Andrea Estella.
Before 2011: Twin Sister formed in 2008 and self-released the EP Vampires with Dreaming Kids. But it was with their subsequent Color Your Life EP from 2010 that the band won us over with their lounge-y dream pop sound.
During 2011: Twin Sister's debut LP, In Heaven, is technically self-produced, but its studio-recorded sheen is far crispier than the band's past work.
Why We Liked It: The drums hit hard, meaning that funk-tinged dance numbers like "Bad Street" and "Saturday Sunday" really pop. But the true standouts are the atmospheric, down-tempo cuts like "Space Babe" and "Kimmi in a Rice Field," which sound flat-out gorgeous.
2. Neon Indian
Who: Alan Paloma, arguably the most successful artist to come out of the chillwave craze of 2009.
Before 2011: Paloma's debut as Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, dropped in fall 2009. Like most of the chillwave releases that rose to acclaim around the same time, the album's bleary DIY aesthetic was integral to the music's appeal. But when he released his 2010 single "Sleep Paralysist," we knew that greater things were in store for this synth junkie.
During 2011: The sophomore LP Era Extraña scaled back the reverb-blurred chillwave in favour of full-bodied beats, sparking vocal hooks and gorgeous widescreen synths.
Why We Liked It: Era Extraña improves on Psychic Chasms in almost every way imaginable. The collection melds dazzling dance pop with shoegazing noise and sublime synth ambience. Not only does it sound great, but Paloma's songwriting is better than ever, as song after song delivers infectious beats and hook-heavy melodies. Even more than the rest of his former lo-fi peers, Neon Indian proved that there's substance behind his hype.
1. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Who: Brooklyn charmers with a penchant for twee indie pop from decades past.
Before 2011: The Pains of Being Pure at Heart became blog favourites in 2009 when they released an eponymous LP, plus the Higher Than the Stars EP. They didn't sound ultra lo-fi, but these fuzzy, reverb-heavy discs were decidedly rough gems. The 2010 single "Say No to Love" was a sonic leap forward and indicated that a big change was in store.
During 2011: The sophomore album Belong ended the band's association to the lo-fi craze with a massive sound courtesy of producer Flood (U2, Smashing Pumpkins) and mixer Alan Moulder (My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus and Mary Chain).
Why We Liked It: Who know that these warm-hearted indie kids could sound so righteously badass? Opener "Belong" explodes out of the gate with a titanic wall of distortion and '90s rock radio-tinged riffs. And yet, for all the alt-rock muscle, the band still haven't lost any of their sensitive charm or pop smarts.