40 Must Sees At SXSW

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

on 03.08.12 in Lists

Whether you plan on penciling your South by Southwest schedule into a sprawling spreadsheet or wandering in and out of random showcases with your badge held high, a little bit of help never, ever hurts. Which is why we went all out this year, pairing 40 must-see acts with an essential record and “Download This Now” selection so you can compile an ultimate playlist of your own from it all…


The Devil's Walk


Why He Matters: The windswept techno-pop vistas of Sascha Ring's fourth solo album may seem surprising at first, but the part-time singer/longtime producer's been working towards such widescreen heights for a while now, whether that's meant performing with a power trio or sculpting gleaming sound design grooves alongside Modeselektor and Ellen Allien. Be sure to catch him doing double duty at SXSW - as both a heart-on-sleeve frontman and a sample-weaving storyteller. (!K7's popular DJ-Kicks series tapped Apparat and Photek for a pair of rare sets on Wednesday, March 14.) Download This Now: "Song of Los" - Andrew Parks"


Kings of the Weekend

Bad Sports

Why They Matter: Because they hoist the sloppy, beer-soaked dishrag of true garage punk higher and more proudly than their teeming contemporaries; and because they've perfected the hangdog slouch that allows garage rock to momentarily transform you into a streetwalking cheetah. Download This Now: "Sinking You" - Jayson Greene


Beach Fossils

Beach Fossils

Why They Matter: So long as this year's SXSW isn't like 2010 - a strange, rain-slicked example of global warming gone awry - you're going to want to wash all of those Lone Star long necks down with the occasional shady lane single. Enter Beach Fossils; much like their borough mates Real Estate, the Brooklyn band excels at sun-stroked jams and contact high chords. Download This Now:: "Daydream" - AP


Crazy For You

Best Coast

Why They Matter: Because although frontwoman Bethany Cosentino may be known for her unpolished brand of bratty surf pop, she keeps on growing. Her Jon Brion-produced new album (The Only Place, due out on May 15) promises to be decidedly more sophisticated, save for a few Snacks the Cat shout-outs if we're lucky. Download This Now:: "The End" - Maris Kreizman




Why They Matter: Because other bands that try to fuse willowy vocals with gauzy synths get carried off by the breeze. Blouse, on the other hand, pin their billowing pop to sturdy melodies, the perfect soundtrack to dancing in the graveyard. Download This Now:: "Time Travel" - J. Edward Keyes


Perfect From Now On

Built To Spill

Why They Matter: Because this shuffling, bemused, slightly paunchy group of indie-rock dads have created some of the most gloriously ear-filling guitar sounds ever recorded. Because they helped reclaim the extended instrumental jam from invidious cultural backwaters. And because Doug Martsch, their leader since the '90s, can still pen a cryptic love letter to knock you off your feet, pushing a stately fusillade of sugary guitars heavenward in the process. Download This Now:: "Made-Up Dreams" - JG


Rohnert Park


Why They Matter: Anyone who appreciates the art-damaged hardcore of Fucked Up will want to rush the stage the second Ceremony sparks one of their twisted tirades against, well, pretty much everything. And if circle pits and back flips aren't your thing, Ceremony's got something many other VFW Hall heroes lack: actual song dynamics, a tendency to switch gears that won't be a surprise when you consider their cover choices in the past (Pixies, Crisis, and their closest ancestor these days, Wire). Download This Now:: "Into the Wayside Part I/Sick" - AP


Cloud Nothings

Cloud Nothings

Why They Matter: Because in the past year they've evolved from an endearingly sloppy bedroom punk project to a formidable rock band. Their live show is proof that although Cloud Nothings have found new depth in their musicianship, they're still not at all lacking in youthful exuberance - a mood that hovers between angry and ecstatic. Download This Now:: "Fall In" - MK


Why They Matter: They're carrying on the stubborn, art-punk tradition of groups like Kleenex and the Raincoats, wrapping frenzied, yelping vocals in barbed wire guitars and hurling them forward at full force. Download This Now: "Jaybird" - JEK


Why They Matter: We realize Will Oldham's down with R. Kelly and all, but that doesn't change the shock and awe factor of hearing his Bonnie 'Prince' Billy guise set against the gravel-gargling howl of Coliseum frontman Ryan Patterson (see also: Black Cross, the National Acrobat and several other seminal Louisville punk bands). Members of Squirrel Bait, Jawbox and Shipping News also appear on House With a Curse, although it's important to note that the Coliseum live experience errs more on the steel-toed side of things. Download This Now: "Skeleton Smile" - AP


Galactic Melt

Com Truise

Why He Matters: His stern, flatwave songs may feel like they were born 30 years ago, but their steel-girder synths and dead-eyed drum tracks stick out sharp as ice picks, ready to stab empty nostalgia square in the heart. Download This Now: "VHS Sex" - JEK

Dan Deacon


Dan Deacon

Why He Matters: Anyone put off by Dan Deacon's Woody Woodpecker warbling needs to give his last album a shot. While it's still a maximalist rush of blood to the head, Bromst is as close as the classically trained prankster's come to simulating the we're-in-this-together-now joy that courses through his sensory overload shows. Prepare to be blinded by 16-bit beat science, sonically and visually, as well as to hear material from Deacon's forthcoming Domino debut and/or his recently wrapped score for Francis Ford Coppola's latest film, Twixt. Download This Now: "Build Voice" - AP


Extraordinary Machine

Fiona Apple

Why She Matters: After a decade of near silence, the reclusive singer is back on tour. If Fiona is still your go-to source for heart-wrenching, pissed off breakup songs that smolder, you owe it yourself to see her in person. Download This Now:: "Oh Well" - MK


Why They Matter: Because out of the scads of hyper-creative garage-rock bands operating in San Francisco, raining down a constant barrage of full-lengths and 7-inches, Fresh & Onlys might be the best of the lot. They're definitely the catchiest, balancing their psych-rock swagger with generous dollops of sweetly skewed melody. Download This Now: "Waterfalls"


Why They Matter: Because they'd kick your ass for suggesting otherwise. Big, brutal, pummeling riffs and bug-eyed horrified hollering combine to create a kind of sonic Donkey Kong - as in, you're being attacked by a giant, angry monkey who keeps whaling you in the chest with enormous barrels. Download This Now:: "The Face of Oblivion" - JEK


Why They Matter: Still waiting for that new Avalanches album? Don't. Listen to Javelin instead, and watch as they patch mildly insane pop songs together from battered sample banks and hand-painted boom boxes. Like a pair of crate-combing DJs, only way more live and direct. Download This Now:: "Mossy Woodland" - AP


Why He Matters: Because he's one of our last enduring punk rock icons. He may be a long way from the fire and fury of his early days in X, but even surrounded by lap steel and broad acoustic guitars, Doe sounds as ornery as ever. Download This Now: "Don't Forget How Much I Love You" - JEK


Why They Matter: If Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was an album title rather than Michel Gondry's last truly great movie, it could easily apply to the astral plane anthems that shoot across Korallreven's debut album like comets on fire. The Swedish duo - who share a member with the similarly minded Radio Dept. - playing their first run of stateside shows earlier this month, so expect them to hit their stride just in time for SXSW. Download This Now: "As Young As Yesterday" - AP


In Tension

Light Asylum

Why They Matter: !!! fans may remember Shannon Funchess from her brief run as one of the disco-punk group's crowd-riling singers/MCs. Her long-running Light Asylum project is a much, much darker listen; bleak even, a teeth-gnashingly Gothic take on minimal/cold/new-wave music that puts most of today's cellar dwellers to shame. If the prospect of melancholia pop makes you cringe, don't worry; Light Asylum isn't melodramatic for the sake of it. They're one of the few acts at SXSW that we can safely say will leave the hair standing up on the arms of just about anyone. Download This Now: "Dark Allies" - AP


Black City

Matthew Dear

Why He Matters: Because he's successfully transitioned from his early days in minimal electronics to full-on dinner-jacket David Bowie Lodger mode. His live shows lately have matched the pulse and energy of LCD Soundsystem, with the same undercurrent of dread that ran beneath the works Bowie and Iggy Pop made in Berlin. Download This Now: "I Can't Feel" - JEK


Why They Matter: Because one of Brooklyn's most promising sludge slingers cleaned up their act just enough to burrow their way into your brain, then bash it in. Definitely one of SXSW's most likely underground hero stories this year. Download This Now: "Bataille" - AP


Why He Matters: On his self-titled 2011 debut, Mikal Cronin writes California garage-rock with a perfect combination of guitar fuzz and '60s pop harmonies. Written while adjusting to post-college life, Cronin sings about growing up and "getting along with my future" and asks questions like, "What are you gonna be when you're older/ where are you gonna go when you move out?" Download This Now: "Apathy" - LL


Addicts: Black Meddle Part II


Why They Matter: Black metal can be suffocatingly insular, but Blake Judd and his team of hellraisers have taken pickaxes to its black brick walls, smuggling in elements of psych, garage and - egads! - synth-pop. Download This Now: "Nightfall" - JEK


Why He Matters: Jaar trickles synths over his songs like cold water, creating shadowy music that's long on mood and dark implication. It's eerie and unsettling as the best David Lynch film, low tones throbbing as snatches of vocals enter and vanish like anguished spirits. Download This Now:: "Too Many Kids Finding Rain in the Dust" - JEK


Into The Woods

Of Monsters And Men

Why They Matter: They stand equipped to give Bjork and Sigur Ros a run for their money as Icelandic's most valuable musical export. Boasting big-band sound - rococo orchestration, gang-of-giddy-pals vocals and booming percussion - Of Monsters & Men are the wide-eyed, worked-up kids ready to run rampant all over your town. Download This Now: "Little Talks" - JEK


Why He Matters: Don't let the nihilistic noise at the start of Oneohtrix Point Never's fourth album fool you: once the dust settles and the speaker-stabbing effects subside, Returnal segues into a series of dream sequences and becomes downright beautiful. His knob-twiddling live sets are just as unpredictable, weaving their way through cumulus chords, weightless synth waves and scatterbrained samples like a slightly demonic radio dial. Download This Now: "Stress Waves" - AP



Peaking Lights

Why They Matter: Grooves don't get much more locked than the dark alley diatribes of Peaking Lights, a pair of recent L.A. transplants (via Madison, Wisconsin, ala Zola Jesus) who strike a perfect balance between 21st century dub and masterful, meditative bouts of melancholy. And with another album on the way from Mexican Summer later this year, you can rest assured that this married couple will be road testing their new material on sunbaked listeners throughout SXSW. Download This Now:: "Birds of Paradise Dub Version" - AP


Why They Matter: Screaming Females have been steadily churning out hard-hitting blasts of punk rock for the past five-plus years, beginning in crowded basements in their hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Fronted by master shredder Marissa Paternoster (the group's sole screaming female), their relentless touring and DIY roots have led them to Steve Albini, who produced their forthcoming fifth LP, Ugly. Download This Now:: "Bell" - LL


Fleur EP


Why They Matter: Rounded out by Braille's Praveen Sharma and Machinedrum's Travis Stewart, Sepalcure distills house, dubstep and mid/down-tempo dance music down to its very essence - phantasmagoric pop that moves in more ways than one. Download This Now: "Fleur"


Why She Matters: Woozy vocals and folk-tinged melodies are still Van Etten's trademarks, but she gets bolder with each heartsick release. She most recently collaborated with the National's Aaron Dessner, a fellow master of the slow burn. Download This Now:: "A Crime" - MK


Soft Metals

Soft Metals

Why They Matter: Now that they've left Portland's crunchy environs for the neon-tinted territory of L.A., Soft Metals have essentially become the West Coast's very own Chris & Cosey. Black-lit and strictly analog by design, this is exactly what you'll want to be hearing as the sun goes down and disco dancing prevails in dimly-lit, cigarette-stubbed clubs. Download This Now:: "Voices" - AP


Why They Matter: Jon Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees is the mad scientist of the San Francisco psych-rock scene. From release to release, he tweaks the band's name in tiny maddening ways The OhSees, The OCs, Thee Oh Sees in a way that suggests a trickster giggling at his own evasiveness. The albums he makes are wigged-out, aggressive, and pulsing with lunatic energy, and live, they have made a startingly regular practice of whipping otherwise-aloof crowds into a wild-eyed frenzy. Download This Now: "Pleasure Blimps"


Why They Matter: Some critics have compared Torche's stoner-friendly pop songs to Foo Fighters. Err, maybe - if that band dropped the power ballads and Dave Grohl switched back to drums, delivering window-shattering thunderclaps on par with his brief but crucial stint in Queens of the Stone Age. Download This Now:: "Healer"


Fourteen Autumns And Fifteen Winters

The Twilight Sad

Why They Matter: Lykke Li sang "Sadness is a Blessing," but the Twilight Sad adopt it as an ethos. Their songs feel like desperate pleas - starting out tender and rising to tremendous, emotional peaks. Download This Now: The turbulent "That Summer, At Home, I Had Become the Original Boy," a searing slow-burner showcasing everything these Scots do well. - JEK


Why They Matter: Because they make bleary, grinning psych-pop for record nerds that comes packed with a tense, coiled rhythmic backbone. This is indie rock you will be surprised to find yourself dancing to, a transmission from a hippie planet where everyone was force fed a diet of early-'80s Prince. Download This Now:: "Ffunny Ffriends" - JG


Why They Matter: They landed at No. 3 on eMusic's favorite albums of 2011 list for good reason. Whether you're a fan of Springsteen or Dylan, or their former-TWOD bandmate Kurt Vile, you'll find much to love in the Philadelphia quartet's hazy, hook-laden rock. Download This Now:: "Come to the City" - MK


These Four Walls

We Were Promised Jetpacks

Why They Matter: Like their labelmates Frightened Rabbit and the Twilight Sad, Scottish indie rockers We Were Promised Jetpacks specialize in barroom stompers that revel in the most cathartic kind of misery. Download This Now: "Ships with Holes Will Sink" - MK


Not Nothing

Xray Eyeballs

Why They Matter: Because they bring a sense of fun back to punk rock. And not the puerile potty-humor popular during the pop-punk era. The weirdo Guy Debord surrealism beloved by the original UK snobs. Download This Now: "Crystal"


See Mystery Lights


Why They Matter: Part dance party, part (secular) tent revival, YACHT's performances take audience participation seriously. So don't bother if you're going to just stand there with your arms crossed; do show up in short shorts if you want to channel the sorely missed spirit of LCD Soundsystem, though. Download This Now:: "Summer Song" - AP


Why He Matters: In 2011, 22 -year-old Trevor Powers offered up The Year of Hibernation, a collection of spare, hazy bedroom-pop songs. His lyrics about anxiety and childhood memories ("You make real friends quickly/ But not me," he sings in "Posters") resonated with an audience wide enough to sell out club shows and land a few gigs opening for Death Cab for Cutie. Download This Now:: "17" - LL