Hey, did you hear that? That’s the sound of one million emails flying out and newsfeeds filling up; it’s our blind, compulsive RSVP-ing to everything at once, just to be safe. The days leading up to South By Southwest are almost as hectic as the festival itself. And while yes, we are technically adding to the noise here with our own preview piece in a sea of preview pieces, we do hope to bring some clarity to one of the biggest questions burning anyone who’s Austin-bound: who are the breakout acts this year? Why don’t we find out together.
A few days ago, Austin-based duo Boy Friend covered the Cars 1984 hit “Drive”, and it sounded pretty much exactly like what we’d imagine the Cocteau Twins would have done with the song. Most of the material ‘lifelong best-buds’ Christa Palazzolo and Sarah Brown (formerly of the original Sleep∞Over lineup) have released recalls the Twins at their dreamiest and scarcest. The title track to their debut LP, Egyptian Wrinkle, feathers to the point of hypnosis; harmonies and melodies twist in a thick atmosphere, letting a dark undercurrent ooze by nearly unnoticed at first spin. This fantasia seems to be translating well so far in a live setting. And hey, support local music.
If you like shimmery, reverb-y guitar rock and live in Brooklyn, you’ve probably seen a Dive set over the last couple months. They’ve been staples to the scene as of late, some of which probably has to do with front-man Cole Smith also playing in Beach Fossils (whom they share a label with, Captured Tracks). Smith built the kraut-leaning project into a four-piece that now includes the former drummer of Smith Westerns and seems well-conditioned for the marathon week in Austin—we’re talking two and three-show-days. These dudes are bringing it.
This long-haired and lanky UK disco-funk revivalist experienced a subtle rise in 2009 on the strength of a “Swinging Party” Replacements cover. He then dropped out of view until an excellent, Arthur Russell-esqe late 2011 single “Cyan,” and it’s now become apparent that his relative silence was fairly strategic. Due out March 19th, his debut album, World, You Need a Change of Mind, is set to own the mellow corners of the dancefloor, or at least a good pair of headphones, and the time is very much right now to prepare.
Just as they were during CMJ, this Canadian duo is one of the most sought after sets to catch in Austin. It’s been something of a perfect storm for the two since early last year when they shared a poisonous, ‘future pop’ jam via Tumblr and just about broke the blogosphere, leading to the coveted Best New Track tag on Pitchfork. This phenomenon repeated two more times, and soon they were touring with Neon Indian. What’s proven more convincing than Internet hype though, is what they do live. Beat-architect Corin Roddick operates/pounds on a handmade light-responsive copper pipe contraption while singer Megan James transfixes the crowd with a warped pixie-dust delivery.
General festival rule: if an international act is making their US debut, they get the edge. London’s Fanzine spent much of last year opening for like-minded alt-rockers Yuck and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, before releasing a debut single with Fat Possum. As is the case with most 90s-loving indie outfits, part of the appeal with Fanzine is that we’ve heard these sweet power chords before (like on MTV’s 120 minutes), but it’s all just so damn charming and re-playable. Nostalgia wins.
Montreal 4-piece TOPS blend soft rock synth with free-love psychedelia. A fresh addition to the tight-nit Arbutus Records family, the 4-piece saw their debut release Tender Opposites make waves last month, getting a nice boost from label-mate Grimes in her guest feature on popular blog Gorilla vs. Bear. They’re young and sweet, and singer Jane Penny leverages that tone with direct, carefree vocals. David Carriere’s spectral guitar work often sails right along with them, like on “Rings of Saturn,” an eerie, lounge-hosted trip out.
Playing all the big shows, from Fader Fort to Hype Hotel, Brooklyn-based act Friends already have a heap of momentum heading to this thing. That’s all thanks to buzz of course, the kind that comes from making immediate and fashionable post-disco dance-pop that sounds simultaneously current and like Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam.
If you’re feeling angst-y under those forecasted clouds, Trust has you covered. The duo’s chemistry is simple: dark distortion, drum machine pulse, and the low, sinister whine of Robert Alfons. Sure, that’s not very uplifting, but the beats per minute here are surprisingly high. This is dreary goth music you can actually move to. And there should be plenty of people present at these shows to do so with, since their debut made a splash last month.
Emerging from an underrated Gainesville music community, Hundred Waters boast six members and infinite swirling parts in an impressively organized avant-pop format, letting folk elements rest comfortably in electronic frequencies. Every second of their 50 minute self-titled release has a sense of intent. And above all, beauty. Vocalist Nicole Miglis is the centerpiece, reaching into both the tranquil and active worlds with equal measure.
After performing in a few backyards last year, acid-folk trio Quilt aka the coolest band in Boston is returning to Austin for a much more official 2012. The name fits, as they’ve stitched together a kaleidoscope brand of Americana, directly yet tastefully pulled from the flower-child sensibilities of the late 1960s, and quite worthy of its place on the Mexican Summer roster.
Photo courtesy of Erez Avissar.