(Image Credit: Forbes)

With an overwhelming number of bands and shows at SXSW every year, it can be hard to decide who is worth your time to check out and who is better left alone. SXSW is a great place to make musical memories; Stumbling upon a band you had no idea existed, seeing one proving themselves in a live setting, and having the opportunity to see another one of your favorite bands again are all common occurances at the yearly extravaganza. To make things a little easier, I have compiled a little primer of ten groups you owe it to yourself to see. I’ve decided to fill this list with mostly younger and up and coming groups, as the fact that you should try and see TV On The Radio, Surfer Blood, Okkervil River, and other bigger bands is a given.So, without further ado and in no particular order, here they are:

Braids: Though they have received an intense amount of pre-festival buzz, the hype that has surrounded Braids is completely justified. These young Canadians make what I like to describe as forceful dream-pop, their lush atmospherics backed by a compulsive rhythm section. However, what really sets them apart is lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston, who possesses one of the most powerful and downright gorgeous female voices to emerge from the scene in quite some time. Live, they sound tight and focused, and Standell-Preston’s voice is just as captivating as it is on the group’s excellent debut, Native Speaker. Braids are sheer contenders to be one of the most highly regarded groups coming out of the festival.

Twin Shadow: Is there anything that still needs to be said about Twin Shadow? George Lewis Jr. took a template that had been rehashed to death during the middle of the last decade, 80’s new-wave romanticism, and crafted an album that improved upon it in so many different ways. Forget was one of my favorite albums last year, and is still one that I will gladly listen to in it’s entirety. Thankfully, Lewis knew that in order to recreate the album’s sound, he would have to recruit the help of other musicians. As such, many of the flourishes and nuances from the album should make their way on stage, giving those of us who memorized every bass line, synth progression, and guitar solo the chance to be indulged in the songs that make Twin Shadow one of the best new groups of the last year.

Diamond Rings: After hearing the ten songs on Special Affections, John O’Regan’s solo debut as Diamond Rings, anyone who had written off the project as a YouTube novelty were quickly forced to reevaluate their positions. While it is true that the videos for “All Yr Songs,” “Show Me Your Stuff,” and “Wait and See” were viral hits, what helped them to stick was O’Regan’s masterful grasp of what works in pop music. There is not a single filler track to be found on Special Affections, and O’Regan’s delivery and energy permeated throughout. When he opened for Robyn last month, he surprised the vast amounts of people who had never heard of them by bringing the same kind of quality to his live act as was found on his album. Simply put, Diamond Rings is the product of a certifiable pop genius, one who should be more appreciated by the end of the week.

The Head And The Heart: In an age where Mumford Bros. (or Avett & Sons, if you will) are the template by which folk music bridges the gap into the mainstream, it’s nice to see a group with crossover potential whose music actually warrants attention. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical that The Head And The Heart would fall into that camp. However, upon listening to their self-titled debut and seeing them open for The Walkmen a couple weekends ago, I was convinced that if they do break into the mainstream, it won’t be because they played to type. The group has two talented lead vocalists in Jonathan Russell and Josiah Johnson, and contributions from violinist Charity Rose Thielen make for harmonies that are almost impossible to deny. Additionally, the group had an energy about them that demonstrated they take their craft seriously. Expect this group to break big post-SXSW.

Fang Island: Earlier this year, I likened Fang Island to the musical equivalent of drinking an entire case of Red Bull. I still stand by that statement, and I dare you to try and sit still while listening to their self-titled debut. If you’re ever in need of some adrenaline before doing anything, this is the band you should turn to. Their infectious energy, self-affirming lyrics, and triple guitar attack is nothing short of euphoric. You get the sense that theses guys had an absolute blast making the album, as their musical talents were on full display and never once seemed forced or contrived. That same kind of energy should be present in their live show, so expect to leave their set ready to take on anything at the festival.

Smith Westerns: While their 2009 self-titled debut may have gotten them lumped in with the lo-fi movement, the youngsters in Smith Westerns weren’t content with making the aesthetic the focal point of their sound. This year’s excellent Dye It Blonde is almost blinding with it’s production sheen, yet maintains the kind of raw quality and wide-eyed optimism that made them so likable in the first place. There is something almost seductive about the fuzzed out guitar tones that dominate songs like “Weekend” and “End Of The Night,” as lead guitarist Max Kakacek churns out the kind of riffs that stick in your head for weeks. Add to that the group’s knack for great arrangements, band leader Cullen Omori’s teen-heartthrob potential, and their overall cohesion as a group and you have a band that are on a sheer fire path to success.


Yuck: Almost every music journalist will tell you that the 90’s are making a comeback this decade, and one of the flagship bands for their claim is the London group Yuck. Their aesthetic recalls Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement, with heavily distorted guitars and an almost shoegaze feel. However, like those bands, their attention to songcraft and energy grant them the ability to sell that kind of approach very convincingly. As a nice compliment to Daniel Blumberg’s Mascis-isms, Max Bloom’s six string assault is more polished and provides a lot of the hooks that make songs like “The Wall” and “Georgia” so effective. Along with the great drumming of New Jersey based Jonny Rogoff and the insistent bass lines of Mariko Doi, Yuck have the kind of sound that warrants comparisons to the royalty of the former slacker nation.

Dominique Young Unique: I first caught Ms. Unique at last year’s SXSW, when she was barely a blip on anyone’s radar. However, she immediately proved herself with her skills as an MC, some unique beats to back her up, and an infectious personality, making me feel that I would be hearing more from her in the coming year. The young Tampa rapper has since played gigs all over the place, released several well received EP’s, and put out some great music videos that demonstrate that she’s a hard person not to like. Hopefully this SXSW will be a sort of coming out party for her, as she can show mainstream rappers of all walks a thing or two.

Baths: Perhaps more impressive than the songs found on Will Wiesenfeld’s debut album as Baths, Cerulean, is the sheer joy of watching him perform. Onstage, Wiesenfeld is as exuberant as they come, and it translates into his delivery and perfectly matches the style of music he plays. His songs can be best described as a mixture between ambient atmospherics and schizophrenic beats, yet it is executed so well that it transcends the LA beat scene he is so often associated with. Though it is just him onstage, he managed to captivate the crowd at Mohawk last month with his genuine excitement to be playing in Austin and his abilities to so effortlessly recreate his music. He wasn’t kidding when he said he was going to be playing a million shows at SXSW either, so there will be plenty of opportunities to witness the exuberance in person.

Wild Flag: While it’s the closest we’ll get to a Sleater-Kinney reunion anytime soon (my fingers will be forever crossed for that one), Wild Flag has quickly established itself as a band apart from the one members Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss are best known for. Along with former Helium leader Mary Timony and former Minders keyboardist Rebecca Cole, they are taking a more psychedelic approach with this new project, as evidenced by the Britt Daniel produce “Glass Tambourine.” Though their first album won’t be released until the fall, they already have a very full touring schedule for the next few months, and SXSW will be the first taste of what’s to come for many of those who haven’t yet had the chance to see this supergroup in person. Of course, the prospect of seeing Brownstein and Weiss playing together is more than enough for me.

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