2011 was also a year of great music, with fantastic records from some of our favourite established artists and exciting early salvos from some newfound loves – and next year promises to be even better.

We have spent the last 12 months falling in love with a host of new artists, each of which is doing something new, something exciting, something audacious, or sometimes just something really fun. Each of our editorial staff has nominated an act they think you should be keeping an ear on next year.

Dauwd

There seem to be two broad strands running through contemporary electronic music. In one, producers are striving for the perfect sound: the best-captured, most expertly EQ’d, roundest piece of audio achievable. In the other they are taking a more impressionistic, less clinical approach, in which technicalities are subordinate to feeling.

Dauwd represents the point at which those two strands converge. Each of the handful of tracks he has released this year have been startlingly well produced: witness the clicks and breaths around which ‘Ikopol’ is constructed, or the perfectly formed synths that act as a common thread holding each of the songs together.

But despite Dauwd’s obvious talent for the technical, the quality of the recording is never the first thing you notice. Rather, it’s the gushing, unapologetic emotion that seeps out of every track. Whether it’s the elation of ‘Could It Be’ or the straight-to-the-gut sadness of ‘Shimmer’ (which appears today in our 50 tracks of 2011), Dauwd’s work is primarily about feeling. The beautiful production is a bonus.

Young Dreams

We’re heading to Bergen, Norway to track down the latest of our selections for The Line of Best Fit’s ‘Ones To Watch 2012′. Bergen is home to a thriving music scene. The most recognisable name to hail from these parts would probably be that of Kings of Convenience, and Sondre Lerche is from around here too – perhaps there’s something in the water surrounding this scenic city that helps aspiring musicians on their way to creating harmonious musical magic. The music made by our next selection Young Dreams most certainly falls into this category. Having recently been signed by Modular People, this dynamic 12 piece are proving themselves to be one of Norway’s most exciting and inviting musical prospects for the new year.

So what kind of music are we talking about here? Well, it’s hard to pin down. Young Dreams describe their style as “fusing Tropicália, psychedelic rock, classical, symphonic arrangements and traditional pop recalling the classic sounds of Brian Wilson and Phil Spector.” It’s a pretty fitting description, and goes a long way in defining the genre busting stylistics that have made us so eager to follow the progress of this group. What we’ve come to love about Young Dreams, having tracked pretty much their every movement over the past year, is the pop grandeur, the epic orchestrations, the lush layering and the absorbing vocals of their music. A hundred elements are poured into each song, but each track retains a serene sentiment and a simple statement. With a debut album due to drop in the new year, we highly recommend that you keep a very close eye on this lot. We certainly will be.

Friends

It’s hard to keep ahead of the curve in this musical world of mixtapes dropping daily from the sky (or Soundcloud, at least) and Thom Yorke recording whole albums while you sleep. Thus it was a bit of an annoyance (if we’re going to be selfish here) to see Friends listed in the BBC Sound poll on Monday when we’ve had these bad boys (and girls) up our sleeves for months.

Oh, we’re only kidding. Friends are a band of such sultry proportions that it’s no shock that everyone seems to be falling for them right now. If anything, it has reinstated our belief in human being since the X-Factor viewers went and voted off poor Misha B last weekend.

With three of the most seductive alternative-R&B hits of 2011 (‘I’m His Girl’, ‘Friend Crush’, ‘My Boo’) already under their belt, it’ll be interesting to see (or should that be “hear”) what their next move will be in the new year.

Icona Pop

What exactly defines the term ‘pop music’ in 2011? What characteristics make the perfect ‘pop star’? We’re living in a crazy, marketing fuelled world where the internet hype machine can break an artist overnight with snippets of unintelligible guff made viral (hello iamamiwhoami), paper thin songs are disguised with faux emotion and an identity crisis (I’m looking at you Lana Del Rey) and ex-talent show fodder with ‘bags of attitude’ and the ability to ‘do credible’ fills the airwaves (thanks for dropping by Cher Lloyd, you can leave through the emergency exit, yeah?).

Of course, you can’t please everyone – there’s no such thing as ‘universal’ anymore (maybe there never was) – but the whole aim of pop music is to appeal to a general audience rather than to a particular sub-culture or ideology. Both ends of the spectrum should meet in the middle – finding a common ground within three and a half minutes of well executed tuneage. Where the bookish hipster who has disdain for pretty much everything can meet in a holy communion with the “…well I like pretty much anything that they play on Radio 1″ type of person we secretly all loath. We all love say, ‘Like A Prayer’ by Madonna right? Right. It’s impossible not to adore or ignore.

Enter Icona Pop. A duo from Stockholm that have been no strangers to these pages for the past 10 or so months; Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo craft a type of pop where sophistication and intelligence is delivered by the bucket load and hone enough natural sex appeal, flare and grace it’s borderline impossible not to be spellbound. From the sweet kiss-off of debut single ‘Manners’, the cocksure swagger of ‘Top Rated’ (due out in February) or the call to arms of ‘Nights Like This’ – everything they touch is essential and more to the point: totally accesible on every level imaginable. With a debut album being worked on this very moment and a freshly inked deal with Universal Records, 2012 will undoubtedly see these two former DJs rise to the ranks of Sweden’s most respected.

Devilishly romantic, ridiculously sexy. Say hello to the new queens of pop.

Niki & The Dove

We tipped Niki & the Dove as break-out stars in last year’s Ones to Watch list but they threw us a curveball. Instead of putting out a full length record in 2011, they dropped a couple of incredible EPs and used the time to shape their live show into an event worthy of both stadiums and nightclubs alike. Anyone who saw their headline slot at London’s Cargo a few week back – which was ambitious in both arrangement and execution – will testify that the slow burn of the Swedish duo in 2011 was well worth it.

We’re certain that 2012 will see them emerge as the great hopes of classy pop music with a stunning debut album to boot.

They’ve captured the hearts and ears of music fans far and wide but the allure of Malin and Gustaf is central to the band’s appeal. While lazy parallels always put Kate Bush, Robyn and Karin Drejir Anderson into a messy pop stew, I think that Malin’s ascendence to the role of formidable front woman and vocalist has a more obvious and mainstream lineage. She easily projects the same handmade mysticism-by-way-of-vulnerability that made Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin such memorable talents. There’s more than a hint of mid-80s Madonna too if you look hard enough – it’s there in the stage-craft and connection, the evolving persona we see in interviews, through artwork, photos and shows. She is becoming a Pop star with a capital P. If you don’t believe us, just check out the video for The Drummer.

We’re also big fans of Gustaf and his emerging role as musical director. At the Cargo show – our fifth time seeing the band in 18 months – we felt his presence and role more than ever before. The band’s live shows have changed so much since they first hit London for our Ja Ja Ja clubnight in 2010. Gustaf isn’t simply Chris Lowe to Malin’s Neil Tennant. He’s an equal partner in one of the most exciting pop enterprises we’ve seen in years. Our boy Josh Hall caught up with him and Malin on a windy day during their stint on the autumn NME Radar Tour to find out more about their upcoming record and how 2011 has been for them so far:

We’re beyond excited that Niki & the Dove have agreed to come and play at our inaugural Ones to Watch show on 15 December at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen. They join fellow Ones to Watch Outfit, Theme Park, Fanzine and Amusement in what we think is one of the best line-ups of any show you’ll see this year.