Get ready for March madness! And we're not talking basketball. It's the annual South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, from March 14 to 18. Let's start the party early with this slide show of bands that we look forward to seeing.
The loquacious underground MC has been spitting verbiage since the 1990s, and he still hasn't run out of words. On the LP Float, Aesop gives us his trademark personal sagas speckled with urban grit. And as with his namesake fable writer, there's always a moral to the story.
Don't let her stunning vocals distract you from her real innovation: this New York singer-songwriter is making a seriously fresh cross of operatic indie pop, warm soul, and silky R&B. Mumbly seductions cede to grand arias, and bouncy beats trade with showbiz horns as Smith evokes Sarah Vaughn, Citizen Cope, and Rufus Wainwright all in one breath.
Way before the "it" bands were retro New York rockers, they were gospel-tinged R&B groups in the mold of The Supremes. This young Brit brings back all the shuffling drums, twinkling piano, and doo-wop harmonies of that golden age. Her burnished pipes make the trick a stunning success.
There's an almost boyish charm to Andrew Bird's voice. It's serene, beautiful, and always accompanied by his instrumental mastery. But beneath the velvet lies a bit of wit and the glint of a blade, as his musings imply that he knows a secret. Perhaps he does, but it's not like he's going to just spell it out for us.
A dazzlingly talented, coolly eclectic songman with a taste for the modern and a touch of the vintage--in America that describes Beck, and in Britain it sums up Damon Gough. The new remix of "The Shining" is classic BDB, weaving deep beats and fuzzy synths into the sweet ballad.
Funny that their self-titled honey of a Europop record was spun out by two very savvy West Coasters. Greg Kurstin (the Bee) and Inara George (the Bird) have turned their mutual love of jazz into a moody indie-rock sensation by combining her songbird voice with his studio wizardry. Sweet.
An unguarded urgency in this alt-punk outfit's lyrics sets them apart from their generation's cookie-cutter maxims. And while Birdmonster's huffing guitars can occasionally dip into an unfortunate "modern-rock" growl, their debt to '80s college rock keeps them well afloat.
Is this disco-punk for no-wave wallflowers? Bloc Party have set up their kissing booth in the middle of the dance floor, and everyone's invited to shake what their mama gave them. If Interpol and The Rapture played spin the bottle together and produced a bouncing baby band, Bloc Party would be rocking the post-punk preschoolers to sleep.
The joyless, razor-edged rock of Joy Division (and its many '80s descendants) has obvious fans in The Cinematics. The group joins the celebration of stiff-backed English rock, succeeding with stellar execution on every gritty riff and, most importantly, powerful lead vocals.
The Metric frontwoman's solo outing gets long mileage out of simple piano arrangements and scattered atmospherics. That's testament both to Haines' downy production and the pillowy power of her voice, which was built for just this sort of hazy dream pop.
What sounds like some ubercool Japanese duo is actually an ubercool British trio. The lads join Krautrock's robotalk and stiff synths with the sort of downy electronica you'd expect of Brighton natives. The result is both darkly hypnotic and as palatable as pop.
On sheer quantity Pittsburgh's Gregg Gillis outsamples them alll. His track "Too Deep" culls the Beatles, Smashing Pumpkins, Phantom Planet's The O.C. theme, and a stack of vinyl in between. The restless remixing can be a bit scattered, but it's a grandly entertaining mess.
With its hippie-baroque script and solo portrait, Sykes' Like Love Lust album cover evokes the era of Joni and Judy. Inside is a record that culls the group's wise sense of song but little of its sentimentality, favoring instead fuzzy guitars and a Grant Lee Buffalo brand of wry resignation.
Lily Allen is laughing at all the old music execs who didn't give her proper attention in the past, as her debut has landed her on magazine covers, radio, and iPod playlists everywhere. With help from her infectious hit "Smile," vocalist Allen has quickly become the cover girl for feel-good indie pop. She unites women with her humorous lyrics about breakups, eating pasta without feeling guilty, and hating fashion magazines but reading them anyway. Catchy enough for men to sing along with, too.
Like a pair of worn jeans, Money Mark's sound and style become more comforting with age. As long as the former Beastie Boys collaborator has fingers to tap out funky melodies on his vintage keyboards, he'll continue to warm your soul with laid-back grooves. His vocal presence and expanding array of retro gear further enhance his crusty soul excursions.
Chirper-in-chief Joanna Newsom would likely approve of the multitalented McKay's sprawling latest, which sands off some of the shrill edges while remaining endearingly elfin. Lusty piano, downy back-tracking, and McKay's dewy lyricism all add to the theme.
"The sound of Nicole Atkins' Bleeding Diamonds EP, which serves as a handy introduction to her upcoming, feature-length Columbia Records debut, is like the opening scene to one of her favorite directors' films, David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Underneath the sunny blue skies, immaculately manicured suburban homes, and their bright green lawns lies a forbidding black hole of danger, violence and death." From the artist's bio at NicoleAtkins.com.
By adding lush strings and whirling keyboards this time around, Okkervil River takes songs that would have been perfectly fine with just guitar and voice and really sends them soaring. Frontman Will Sheff steps up as well, sounding exposed, determined, and completely engulfed in the rapturous proceedings.
"Heaviosity" may not appear in the Oxford English Dictionary, but that doesn't stop this Montreal metal act from applying the term to their sound. Strangely, we know just what they mean. Screaming blues-rock riffs and cocksure vocals are underlined by a sludgy low-end and drill sergeant drums.
This pair of Mexican expats plays flamenco-inflected tracks in tandem, but it's entirely misleading to name them a Latin-guitar duo. For one, Gabriela's intensely percussive style is more liked stringed drumming than picking, and their Latin licks are only a means to swelling pop/rock progressions.
On their new material, the Canadian-scene vets serve rock like a drink for a regular: straight up. And if an unalloyed mix of thick guitars, soaring tenor, and chugging drums is now more revolutionary than it ought to be, it's only that much more palatable.
In the overcrowded NYC retro rock scene of recent years, the bands that have stood out most have done it with a twist. In the case of The Walkmen--the group that formed out of Jonathan Fire-Eater and The Recoys--that twist is dreamy vocals that soar when you'd expect them to shout. Taut guitars and pensive percussion take care of the rest.
History has shown that husband-and-wife musical pairings are often quite fruitful, and Viva Voce is no exception. This married Portland, Oregon, duo crafts homespun indie pop full of charming, offbeat sonic pleasures. Still somewhat of a secret, Viva Voce (Italian for "word of mouth") should be on everyone's lips in no time.
The Watson Twins currently have one self released EP Southern Manners, "a collection of melancholy, intimate songs created with a raw, soulful approach. These songs embody the traditional soul, gospel, and country harmonies that surrounded their youth. This introspective and inspired approach puts them in an Indie Folk Rock category and compares them with the likes of Neko Case, Emmy Lou Harris, and Cat Power." From the artist's bio at TheWatsonTwins.com.
These Aussie indie rockers share the Ivy League Records tag with Jet and the Vines, and on their second album Skeleton Jar (U.S. release on Epitaph Records) they've arguably outdone their more famous label-mates. The record is a grandly scaled, instantly likeable cross of New York percussion and the '80s British arena feel of The Cure.