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10 Acts to Watch at SXSW 2010

Every March, thousands upon thousands of artists show up in Austin, Texas. They come for the SXSW Music Conference, stay for the barbeque, and hope to hell that the countless shows they play in the span of four days will, somehow, someway, stir up the kind of buzz that only a confluence of industry bigwigs, tastemaking bloggers, and ten billion bands can drum up. A good showing at SXSW —however that can be quantified— can set the tenor for a good year in total; can, in some cases, turn a band from ignored to hyped overnight. With SXSW ’10 looming, here’s 10 bands to seek out amongst the masses.

1. Ólöf Arnalds

Ólöf ArnaldsOne Little Indian
Ólöf Arnalds got some much-belated recognition recently when her first record, Við og Við, finally found a North American release. Initially issued in Iceland in 2007, Arnalds’ debut dwelled in ill-deserved obscurity for years, but, slowly, loving listeners uncover a hidden gem that was, truly, one of the best LPs of the ’00s. This touring member of Múm and pal of Sigur Rós (of course, Iceland’s so small everyone knows everyone…) makes magical, miniature, seemingly-centuries-old folksongs that set her glorious voice to solitary ukulele, or guitar, or violin in a sublime study in musical elementalism. And, wonderfully, after SXSW is done, Arnalds will finally follow-up Við og Við with her second set, Innundir Skinni, at some point of 2010.

JavelinThrill Jockey
New Yorker beatmakers Javelin caused a minor riot amongst blogosphere weenies with their self-released Jamz n Jemz disc in 2009; their sample-splicing stitch-ups —especially the repeat-play-worthy “Vibrationz”— so good that they earned comparisons to those sample-science Salingers, the Avalanches. Following a pair of 12″s for Thrill Jockey, a remix of The Very Best, and a live-collaboration with Mos Def, the duo recently announced that they’d inked a deal with David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, and will be issuing their debut album, No Más, on April 20. Javelin will prime themselves for SXSW by supporting Yeasayer on tour in the UK through February, and arrive ready to turn industry drudges into dancefloor assassins.

3. JJ

JJSecretly Canadian

One of 2009’s best albums was by a mysterious entity named JJ. The work of anonymous (if Tough Alliance-associated) Swedes, their debut, Nº 2, fashioned a magical, Saint Etienne-esque take on balearic disco and bedsit balladry, sounding summery yet impossibly sad. Amazingly, JJ have managed to keep some semblance of mystery in the internet era. They’ve still never been interviewed nor disclosed their names, but we now know they’re a boy/girl duo from Gothenburg who perform artfully karaoke-like liveshows. And, even better, that their second LP, Nº 3, is due for release on Secretly Canadian in March, and that they’ll be touring North America soon with 2009 breakout darlings The XX (who are are worth checking out at SXSW themselves).

4. Magic Kids

Magic KidsTrue Panther Sounds
Tennessean teenage troupe Magic Kids arrive at SXSW with ink still wet on their signing with beyond-cool, now-Matador-affiliated imprint True Panther Sounds, and a tour with new labelmates (and 2009 breakout superduperstars) Girls just put to bed. They’ll be bringing with them a sound that channels the Beach Boys via the Langley Schools Music Project; a joyous, ecstatic embrace of old-fashioned pop, rich vocal harmony, tinkling xylophone, and bleating saxophone. For these exuberant Kids, old is the new new; well-worn Wilsonic licks sounding fresh-as-a-daisy when lit up by their utterly unironic musical sunshine. After charming the hearts of all who’ll witness them at SXSW, Magic Kids’ll head back to Memphis to make their debut LP. Huzzah!

5. Memory Tapes

Memory TapesAcéphale
Dayve Hawk was everywhere in 2009. Except, y’know, on stage. The former frontman of Philly soft-poppers Hail Social had long since retired from performing, spending his days as stay-at-home dad in the woodlands of rural New Jersey, making melancholy electronic music by night. Hawk turned loose the results on the internet, clogging blogs with an astonishing output under the names Memory Cassette, Weird Tapes, and Memory Tapes. He eventually settled on the latter, released one of 2009’s best LPs, and remixed Fool’s Gold, Phoenix, Yeasayer, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Now, Hawk’s finally agreed to play live; and, whilst no one knows if Memory Tapes’ll be any good on stage, I’d recommend seeing him whilst you have the chance.

6. The Morning Benders

The Morning BendersRough Trade
By the time SXSW is actually here, the Morning Benders’ second album, Big Echo, will actually be released, and the cat will well-and-truly be out of the bag. For the moment, the Bay Area band must feel like they’re keeping a particularly tantalizing secret that they can’t wait to spill. Following up their 2008 debut Talking Through Tin Cans, the Morning Benders have undergone a substantial productional upgrade; frontman Christopher Chu working with Grizzly Bear‘s Christopher Taylor to make Big Echo an album suitably big. Chu’s songs verily pop out of the speakers; all sparkling guitars, cascading vocal harmonies, and tiny sonic daubings. When it comes out March 9, on Rough Trade worldwide, the world will freak out.

7. Mountain Man

Mountain ManOpen Face Records

Though the three dames in Mountain Man are, noticeably, not men, there’s something most mountainous about their rustic folksinging; their wavering, warbling, three-part harmonies summoning imagined Appalachian vistas, rural families caroling together on sticky summer’s nights. Employing either a solitary acoustic guitar or singing wholly unaccompanied, Mountain Man are a study in the simple, unsullied power of the human voice; their self-released debut EP rich with a bounty of beauteous harmonies. Perhaps not surprisingly, Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold, a chap who once said to me “there’s something really human about just singing; it’s almost like spiritual in a non-religious way,” is a huge Mountain Man fan. Bless.

8. Pepi Ginsberg

Pepi GinsbergPark the Van

On her first two albums —a 2006 self-titled set and 2008’s really great, Dr. Dog-produced Red— Brooklyn singer-songwriter Pepi Ginsberg showcased a flair for literary lyricism heavily influenced by her hero Bob Dylan. For her third record, East is East, she’s pulled her Dylan-goes-electric: her poetic folksongs transformed into rollicking rock numbers by a tight band intent on getting Ginsberg to ‘rock out.’ Or, y’know, at least something like that. The band-driven cuts don’t lacky her usual wordiness, though: in the nippy “Navy and Sand,” Ginsberg spits out “sand spent a million years as a mountain and a stone” at a rapid, syllable-splattering clip

9. Surfer Blood

Surfer BloodIan Witlen

With the recent tide of ’90s revivalism building to a mass pop-cultural swell, Surfer Blood are riding a wave of buzz. The young Floridian outfit’s anthemic indie-rock is less surf-guitar, more Surfer Rosa: all quiet-to-loud guitar shifts, hoarse-throated choruses, and splashy, air-drumming-friendly percussion. “Obviously we all love The Pixies. You can probably tell the influence,” frontman JP Pitts said to me, and, well, yes, yes you can. With Pitchfork hype on their side, just-done dates with Japandroids under their belts, and 2010 breakout status seemingly assured, Surfer Blood will arrive in Austin in stride, hoping to deliver cred-proving performances.

10. Toro y Moi

Toro y MoiBryan Bush
With the release of his debut Toro y Moi LP, Causers of This, Chaz Bundick has already done plenty this year. His project’s muffled-sounding, heavily-worked over, intensely-melodic, slippery-sounding synth-pop is a thing of wonky wonder; Bundick taking influence from the ’80s pop of Janet and Michael Jackson, the hipsterist lo-fi fug of Ariel Pink, the summery haze of Panda Bear, and the gleaming house of Daft Punk, and making something magical, mischievous, and unexpectedly melancholy. The 23-year-old isn’t resting on his laurels, though: before the year’s done, Bundick will’ve toured the world, taken over SXSW, and finished up his second Toro y Moi album, which is due for release before ’10 comes to an end.

February 16, 2010 - Posted by | 1

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