Put away your grandpa-style indie rock sweaters and salute the year's most futuristic music. By that I don't just mean music that sounds like it comes from the future (though there's quite a bit of that); I also mean music that is indicative of larger future trends. Shall we begin?
Vektor, "Outer Isolation"
Sometimes the future can be found in the past. When you watch Blade Runner, it still looks like the future, even though it was made in 1982. Similarly, Arizona thrash band Vektor model their sound (and their dystopian/space-opera lyrics) on Canadian sci-fi thrashers Voivod, who did their best work in the late '80s, and yet they still have an undeniable spacy, forward-looking feel to their work. Here's a video for their song "Dying World."
Blood Stain Child, "Epsilon"
Blood Stain Child are a Japanese band whose first four albums were attempts to blend metal and trance, with varying degrees of success. It wasn't until 2011 that they finally got it right, recruiting female vocalist Sophia to deliver clean, frequently electronically modified lyrics in the inspiring anime-soundtrack vein, as the band dragged their guitars onto the dancefloor behind her. Epsilon is one of the most sugar-addled rocket rides you'll ever take. Here's a video for their song "Stargazer."
Wonder Girls, "Wonder World"
Wonder Girls are a more wholesome and less freaky K-pop group than 2NE1, my #1 group this year. But K-pop as a whole is miles ahead of American pop, and their spin on the Destiny's Child girl-group model makes that sound seem fresh for the first time in years. Here's a video for their song "Be My Baby."
São Paulo Underground, "Três Cabeças Loucuras"
There's an old, mean joke that says Brazil "is the country of the future…and it always will be." Cornet player Rob Mazurek, who divides his time between Chicago and São Paulo, is determined to drag Brazilian music into the 21st or even 22nd Century with this group. Their percussive, electronically manipulated sonic jungle is like Brazilian jazz remixed by Autechre. Here's a video of the band playing live.
Wormrot, "Dirge" and Nervecell, "Psychogenocide"
Wormrot are a grindcore band from Singapore; Nervecell are a death/groove metal band from Dubai. Neither of them are putting any special twists on their chosen sound, other than being really good at what they do. The reason each of these groups is on this list is simple: just by virtue of playing metal while living in countries dramatically different from the ones where this musical style was born, they are the future. Metal is global; rage is universal.
Here's a video for Wormrot, "Erased Existence"
And here's Nervecell, "Human Chaos"
Korn, "The Path of Totality"
Full disclosure: I work for Korn's label, Roadrunner Records. That said, their mix of metal and dubstep is undeniably forward-looking. The electronic elements give their music a bottom end that no traditional guitar-bass-drums outfit can match, and help keep them from being a '90s leftover. Here's the video for Korn's "Get Up."
capsule, "World of Fantasy," and Perfume, "JPN"
Producer/songwriter Yasutaka Nakata is the future of Japanese pop, right now. His minimal yet full-to-bursting tracks for vocal trio Perfume turn the women into instruments, sampling their voices for percussive outbursts of chirpy cybernetic joy; meanwhile, with the duo project capsule, he creates Daft Punk-esque trance tracks over which a soothingly robotic female singer croons and whispers.
Perfume, "Laser Beam"
capsule, "World of Fantasy"
2NE1, 2nd EP Release
2NE1 are the queens of Korean pop, which is even more insane than Japanese pop, and their anthem "I Am the Best" is the best song of 2011…because it sounds like the best song of 2111. If The Fifth Element were remade today (not that I'm suggesting it should be-it's an unimpeachable masterpiece), 2NE1 would replace both the blue-skinned diva and Ruby Rhod. They're just that awesome. Here's their video for "I Am the Best."