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Paste's Top 10 Buzziest Acts of SXSW 2009

March 23, 2009  |  7:00am
<em>Paste</em>'s Top 10 Buzziest Acts of SXSW 2009
Another year, another SXSW on the books. Somehow, amidst the parties, food and general chaos of 6th St., the Paste staff managed to see some music. Here are the 10 acts we were most impressed with:

1. Passion Pit
In the last few years, the indie-rock universe has expanded—shambling white-guy rock will always have its place, but dance music now occupies the same hipster-certified space. No new band connects the dots better than Passion Pit, a Boston-area quintet with a giddy melodic sense and an unabashed love for synth-pop. They play with an exuberance that traces back to disco, and their falsetto vocals sound like Bon Iver being sampled and sped up by Kanye West. (Nick Marino)

2. Janelle Monáe
It's a good thing that two of her seven SXSW performances were evening showcases at some of the festival's biggest venues—Stubb's and the Austin Music Hall—much of the buzz around the city was directed towards the Atlanta-based soul/funk/rock/torch singer and her absolute command of the stage. We were blessed to witness a two-song performance for Paste video cameras at an abandoned house, including "Sincerely Jane" on a giant, yellow backhoe. (Josh Jackson)

3.
Pains of Being Pure at Heart
These danceable indie rockers with a debt to old New Wave played 10 shows around town It would have been 11 if they hadn't shown up late to the Paste/Brooklyn Vegan party on Thursday. But with music as catchy as this, how can you hold that against them? (Josh Jackson)

4. Those Darlins
These three Tennessean ladies threw down some old-school country at myriad showcases throughout SXSW, and still found time to chat with Paste about their fashion color of choice. Look for more on this band soon. (Austin L. Ray)

5. Wild Light

Their live show is a little grittier than debut album Adult Nights, but the power-pop deliciousness of songs like "California On My Mind" and "New Hampshire" won over its share of fans during the band's ubiquitous SXSW performances, including one at Paste's day party on Wednesday. The only problem was not being able to hit the repeat button after the two-and-a-half minutes of "California." (Josh Jackson)

6. Madi Diaz
Bells chimed delicately above acoustic-guitar strums in the dim light of the Driskill Hotel's Victorian Room last friday night, the indie folk-pop of Nashville singer/songwriter Madi Diaz and her band wrapping snugly around the crowd's eardrums. There was something so inviting about the whole scene—especially Diaz's voice, an instrument that comforts as if a favorite blanket leftover from early childhood. Diaz first gained attention as a student in the documentary Rock School (which provided the basis for fictional Jack Black vehicle School of Rock), but has since cut her teeth at the Berklee College of Music and is now co-writing with Paste favorites like Katie Herzig, David Mead and Garrison Starr. That's right, little Madi is all growns up, and—with new EP Ten Gun Salute—her music is maturing nicely, as well. (Steve LaBate)

7. Micachu & the Shapes
Mica Levi looks like an 11-year-old boy but is really a 21-year-old young lady from the U.K. who shreds on toy guitars and found instruments to play shambly, silly and unpredictable indie rock tinged with occasional bits of hip-hop. Her live show at Emo's Annex was scratchy and noisy, full of less subtly delightful textures and unexpected noise sampling as her debut album, Jewellery, out earlier this month, but was still a whole lot of fun. Also fun? Levi and her crew telling us what their hypothetical song about SXSW would sound like. (Rachael Maddux)

8. Blue Giant
For as much attention as the indie music scene of Portland, Ore. has received in recent years, it's surprising that this band, somewhat of a super-group of Rose City-based musicians, wasn't heralded with an equally big to-do at SXSW. But the band, featuring Anita and Kevin Robinson of Viva Voce, The Swords' Evan Railton, The Golden Bears' Seth Lorinczi and Chris Funk of The Decemberists, played an excellent set of moody alt-country to an underpacked house at Club DeVille on Thursday night. Hopefully the members' busy schedules will leave them a little time for more music-making, because it was just great. (Rachael Maddux)

9. Fanfarlo
If Belle & Sebastian ever seems just a little too hard-core, take refuge in the twee British chamber-pop act Fanfarlo. Their showcase at Central Presbyterian Church was distinguished by clarinet, violin and shy charm. We watched from pretty far away, but we're pretty sure the singer was wearing a bow tie. What a delightful discovery: We'd never heard of the band before stopping by the church, but were excited by the idea that we'd be able to sit down for awhile, and by the time their set was over we were standing in the pews and forking over a tenner in exchange for a copy of their debut album, Reservoir. (Nick Marino)

10. Thomas Function
Brandishing the usual rock 'n' roll setup (guitar, bass, drums) plus an exuberant organ, this Huntsville, Ala. fourpiece yanked me out of my travel-induced stupor late Wednesday evening, giving me the energy I needed to take in more shows. There were only about 30 people watching them at Headhunters that night, but look for that number to grow steadily this year. No wonder they called their debut album Celebration. (Austin L. Ray)

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