100 Great Bands to See at SXSW 2013
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To celebrate the festival’s music section, which kicks off tomorrow, we’ve compiled a list of our 100 favorite acts heading out to Austin this week. Read about and listen to them all below.
Matthew E. White
“Well, I’m glad it worked,” Matthew E. White laughs. He’s talking, of course, about introducing himself; his record label, Spacebomb Records, and his massive (sometimes up to 30-piece) band into the music community. White hit our radar earlier this year with his richly arranged Big Inner, a play off the word “beginner.” “The record is really large, but it’s also personal, and I just like wordplay like that,” White explains. But if his work with Fight the Big Bull or his horn arrangements for The Mountain Goats’ Transcendental Youth prior to the album are any indication, that title proves White is both a rare talent and modest.
At first listen, White’s whole package can be a lot to take in at once. The album is massive in both arrangement and sound, stirring up elements of jazz, gospel, R & B, rock and Motown, sometimes within a single track. You hear them in the bouncy, laid back “Steady Pace” or the triumphant, complicated look at spirituality in “Brazos”—and they’re all lead forward by White’s low-register, calming croon.
But in every Big Inner LP he’s released White clearly lays out his mission in a hand-signed letter, complete with his own seal stamped into the top. The signature, the seal, the hand-numbered albums, they’re all little packaging details that, like layered horns and soaring choirs, make the album an above-and-beyond introduction into what White and Spacebomb are all about. This personal letter talks the two-week recording session behind the album and Spacebomb Records, a nearly year-old label whose recording studio features a Stax-like house band. “I wanted something where I could wear a lot of hats. I could play guitar, I could write songs, I could produce a record. I can do that under one umbrella.”
But most importantly, he’s explaining the process as a collective experience, one that would have been impossible without his Spacebomb “village.” It includes drummer Pinson Chanselle, bassist Cameron Ralston, and arrangers Trey Pollard and Phil Cook. With most of these musicians hailing from Richmond, Va., White calls Big Inner “regional music.” And with White’s stellar live show taking this regional approach all around the country, there’s no better time to dig into his debut.—Tyler Kane
The no-filler debut from METZ might have come out of nowhere for some, but for the Canadian power-trio, it was three-and-a-half years of sweaty basement shows in the making. Thankfully, Alex Edkins, Hayden Menzies and Chris Slorach are getting that spotlight they deserve through Sub Pop Records, and making a strong case for the return of the power trio on the way. The band’s songs are simple in design—Just look at album opener “Headache” or “The Mule” for quick reminders there—but the whole time, METZ never strays from roots in brutal, distorted bass and guitars tiptoeing feedback from second to second.—Tyler Kane
Mikal Cronin has played in front of some pretty wild crowds, but usually they are while handling the bass for friend and collaborator Ty Segall. With his second solo album due in May, simply titled MCII, Cronin looks to follow in Ty’s footsteps in terms of the audience and creative growth, though his garage rock offers more pop hooks and less opportunities for your girlfriend to get hurt. Outside of the Bay Area, Cronin still seems to be under a lot of radars, but with Merge Records now in his corner, don’t expect this secret to remain hidden.—Philip Cosores
This five-man band—formed in 2006 at Nashville’s Belmont University—treats preserving “breathing space” in their music like an art form. While they were in the studio recording their latest album, Caberet (which features a guest appearance from Matisyahu) the band says they aimed for the minimalism of bands like Radiohead. “Gunflower” hits that “less-is-more” nail right on the head, where a heart-wrenching chorus adds emotional weight to the song’s simple structure.—Lane Billings
Although we at Paste are no strangers to the sweet sounds of this North Carolina Americana ensemble, there’s never been a better time to catch Mount Moriah live in concert. The buzz continues to build around their forthcoming album Miracle Temple, due out on Feb. 26 via Merge Records, and this release matches the gospel-inspired harmonies with a louder guitar sound and stronger percussion to make this set a must-see at SXSW.—Dacey Orr
Murder By Death
Over the last 12 years, Murder By Death has cultivated quite the dedicated following. Since 2001, the Indiana band’s dark and brooding conceptual style has remained consistent, with very few changes; but what keeps their fans coming back is an intriguing blend of Johnny Cash-like vocals and indie orchestral rock. Add that to classic Gothic literature-inspired lyrics and alt-country undertones and you’ve got a band people just can’t get enough of. Even if most of what they sing about is as dark and depressing as their band name suggests. But that’s the genius of their music: it’s a lot like life: there are usually enough bright, upbeat spots to pull you through the somber moments. -Anita George
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
Although there’s a pretty good chance you caught Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers performing a Hall and Oates favorite, they’ve got a little more going for them than kicking out awesome covers in vans. The band—who has two albums of their own, Toby’s Song and Driftwood—has been around since 2008, cranking out their own brand of California rock stamped by Bluhm’s meaty croons.—Tyler Kane
He may not like it, but Winston Yellen’s haunting debut album, Country Sleep, was born from the romantic (and cliched) ideal of the musical nomad: In 2011, the 23-year-old Colorado Springs native dropped out of college and trekked to the isolated country outskirts of Nashville, where he rented a house formerly owned by the late Johnny and June Carter Cash. There, he spent 10 months fumbling with an acoustic guitar, channeling classic country, folk and blues into the 10 minimal, heartbreaking songs that ultimately became Country Sleep.
Latley, Yellen’s been speaking to rounds of journalists, some jaw-dropped by the raw power of his music. That, of course, cracks him up, since the recording process was a total mess. “It’s funny that people feel it was orchestrated,” he laughs. “We had no idea what we were doing. It really was just kind of like, ‘That sounds good. Let’s go with that.’ I think ‘haphazard’ is a real way of saying it without trying to make ourselves sound cool. It was kind of clanking around in the dark and not having a clue.”
Now, on the verge of a co-headlining tour with Indians and massive amounts of critical praise, Yellen can’t even listen to his own music. It’s a fittingly uneasy outlook from one of the year’s most astonishing new songwriting talents.—Ryan Reed
ON AN ON
ON AN ON might be a new name to you, but a listen to the opening track of their new album, Give In, shows they’re as self-assured and defined as a debut artist comes. Although there’s no evidence in a listen to the album, ON AN ON formed from the ashes of a band that broke up weeks before they were scheduled to hit the studio with Dave Newfeld. They’re a brand new name that you should expect to hear much more after this year’s South By Southwest.—Tyler Kane
Ozomatli’s history spans back to 1998, when they released their self-titled debut. Since then, they’ve been proof of what a band can accomplish not only as an entity that provokes dancing and happiness, but meaningful thoughts as well. They’ve served as cultural ambassadors, won a Grammy and most important of all, they’re still keeping dancefloors moving after 15 years.