By most accounts, South by Southwest is something of a one-stop live rendering of my innermost loves and desires: considering its economy is fueled mostly by live music, hot weather, good beer and college athletics, Austin is sort of a heaven on earth, Jay-Z and 50 Cent are showing up to keep up with indie rock somehow, you can kill dead time watching the first round of the NCAA tournament and it always falls on my birthday. So why is seemingly everyone I talk to envious about the fact that I’m not going to SXSW? Well, you can wrestle with the whole clash between corporate influence and “Keep Austin Weird,” the unpredictable weather, punishing schedule, the ridiculous crowds and the ridiculous lines to get into ridiculous crowds. Or, you can summarize thusly: there are exactly 14,549 bands playing at SXSW this weekend and most of them aren’t very good. This isn’t a knock on SXSW, just an acknowledgment of reality – hell, it’s got a better batting average than CMJ, I’ll give it that.
So, here are five bands – each with enough juice to come to Austin buzzing for people other than industry insiders to not be new, but new enough to still be on an upward trajectory – that we’ll surely be talking about come June.
For all my real heads who know that “Burn” from The Crow OST is a top-ten Cure song, I present the sister act 2:54 who arrive to our shores with their self-titled debut due out in May on Fat Possum. Visually and sonically, the operative term is “stylish” — it’s churning, gothic rock combined with R&B’s sleek minimalism, somehow applicable for dank, dingy clubs as well as the chilled open air of Austin’s night.
Yes, 2009’s Post-Nothing was a breakthrough for the band, a half hour of chaotic but unyieldingly catchy garage rock that was initially intended as the Vancouver band’s epitaph for a stalled career. As of 2010, they managed gigs opening up for Future of the Left and the Walkmen, but put it this way: if you see Japandroids at SXSW, they will almost certainly be playing songs from their new album Celebration Rock and it’s the best record of the year. It’s that simple.
Strand Of Oaks isn’t all that different than a lot of bands you’ll likely see in Austin – mastermind Tim Showalter is a bearded, genial dude with an acoustic guitar and an occasionally Neil Young-like high, lonesome warble. And yet, there’s little else like the criminally slept-on Leave Ruin and Pope Killdragon – the latter remains one of the most original and imaginative folk records of the past decade, plaintive acoustic weepers lain side-by-side with black metal dirges and revenge fantasies against John Belushi’s drug dealer. With a full four-piece band, Strand Of Oaks will be road testing new material from their upcoming record which should hopefully boost this underdog’s profile, so get familiar.
Odds are, your Wednesday in Austin might consist of enjoying the ever-loving shit out of some question food options, drinking the cheapest and strongest liquor possible, ogling members of the opposite sex, cursing out local assholes and getting maybe two hours of sleep. In other words, your best day of SXSW will essentially be the plot of a Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire song, so get to know this Brooklyn knucklehead that spent 2011 tremendously boosting his rep with his Lost In Translation mixtape and the self-explanatory Merry eXmas … Suck My Dick. Also, he loves to color.
5. Light Asylum
Look, there’s a chance you might not like Light Asylum — in fact, you might find their overdriven, high-camp rendering of Grace Jones-ish gothic melodrama to be irredeemably shticky. But at the very least, you can bet you won’t see anyone else at SXSW remotely like them. They’re truly a live force, Sharon Funchess’ gargantuan, brassy vocals pretty much destroy on impact over Bruno Caviello’s laser-show synths.