Twenty Must-See Bands at SXSW 2012

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As thousands head down to Austin, Texas, for another week of music, food and the occasional drink, we’re left with the million-dollar question: What artists should we see at SXSW? While many will attempt to squeeze into an Alabama Shakes show or catch The Jesus and Mary Chain reunion set, the festival is, most of all, about discovery. In addition to the 33 bands playing the Sennheiser & Paste day parties, here are 20 smaller acts that we think will turn plenty of heads heads next week.

1. ANR
Miami, Fla.
(Fri., 7:00 p.m., Karma Lounge)
Photo by Paul Bridgewater

This Miami duo fuses indie rock and electronica within their energetic live sets, which seem to generate more sounds that humanly possible. In doing so, ANR have won over fans around the world. The group released their album Stay Kids last year and will go on a short U.S. tour before getting back in the studio. —Hilary Saunders

Stream: “The Endless Field of Mercury”

2. Arkells
Montreal, Quebec
(Fri., 11 p.m., Trinity Hall)

We first caught this Canadian five-piece at the 2009 M For Montreal festival and were impressed by their combination of crunchy rock guitars and an unabashed love for Hall & Oates pop melodies. We’re not alone in our opinion as Arkells won a Juno Award for Best New Band and were named Best Live Act by CBC Radio 3.—Josh Jackson

Download:Michigan Left

3. Buxton
Houston, Texas
(Wed., 11:00 p.m., Skinny’s Ballroom)

With folk instruments, hooky acoustic riffs and good ol’ country harmonies, Buxton is one of the most exciting acts busting onto the Americana scene. With songs that will appeal to fans of The Avett Brothers and Trampled By Turtles, the sextet slowly built up its fanbase in Houston, and they seem poised to break out nationally.—Josh Jackson

Download: “Boy of Nine

4. Carter Tanton
Baltimore, Md.
(Fri., 10:25 p.m., Lamberts)

Baltimore’s Carter Tanton has served as a musical multitasker over the past five years, playing a variety of projects for a number of acts. After his promising group Tulsa broke up, Tanton toured behind Marissa Nadler and produced albums for Twin Shadow and Drug Rug. While he’s recently become a permanent member of Lower Dens (who will also be at this year’s SXSW), it’s his 2011 debut solo album Freeclouds that deserves the most attention.—Max Blau


5. Cheap Girls
Lansing, Mich.
(Thu., 11 p.m., tenOak)

Lansing, Michigan’s Cheap Girls are set to introduce their garage-dirtied brand of pop and punk to Texas this week. Although the band has quietly released several albums on Paper and Plastick records, the group improved and refined their sound with Giant Orange, which was produced by Tom Gabel of Against Me! The step forward shines in immediate, driving tracks like “Communication Blues” and “Manhattan on Mute.” You’ll be able to check the band out at Bridge City Industries’ showcase on March 15.—Tyler Kane

Stream: “Ruby”

6. Class Actress
Los Angeles, Calif.
(Thu., 11 p.m., 512 Rooftop)

??Class Actress frontwoman Elizabeth Harper may have started writing music acoustically, but after switching over to a more electronic-based sound with Scott Rosenthal and Mark Richardson, her sound is still more genuine than her band name implies. The group’s first full-length album is a moody, hooky approach to electronic music that still finds a way to convincingly channel Harper’s previously acoustic songs. The group released Rapprocher last year on Carpark Records, and although the act has not been a prominent touring entity for long, it will be interesting to see what the trio brings to SXSW.—Tyler Kane

Download: “Weekend

7. A Classic Education
Bologna, Italy
(Fri., 12 a.m., The Studio by HGTV)

We first caught wind of this Italian group during CMJ 2010. Since then, they’ve released their first proper album (Call It Blazing) and fine-tuned their sound, shying away just ever-so-slightly from their orchestral pop origins and drawing inspiration from a ‘60s aesthetic. Fans of the Velvet Underground and Michelangelo Antonioni flicks will dig these guys.—Bonnie Stiernberg

Download:I Lost Time

8. Diarrhea Planet
Nashville, Tenn.
(Thu., 9:30 p.m., Trailer Space)
Photo by Bekah Cope

Diarrhea Planet may not have been the name you had in mind for your college band, but for this group of punks the name just works. If you can stomach the name, prepare yourself for a guitar thrashing session so punk that Titus Andronicus had to add them to as their supporting act. With four guitarists, one bassist and a drummer, this band comes at you from all sides, throwing layered guitar solos and riffs with drumming and a bass line that makes you wish their rock never stopped.—Clint Alwahab

Download:Warm Ridin’

9. Diamond Rugs
Providence, R.I., Athens, Ga., Atlanta, Ga., Los Angeles, Calif.
(Sat., 1:00 a.m., Lustre Pearl)

While the names John McCauley, Ian St. Pé, Robbie Crowell, Steve Berlin, Bryan Dufresne and Hardy Morris aren’t exactly conjuring up images of a super group, wait a few more months. Featuring members of Deer Tick, Black Lips, Los Lobos, Six Finger Satellite and Dead Confederate, Diamond Rugs look like they could pull off one of the best straight-up-rock albums of the year. You can read our feature on the band here. —Bonnie Stiernberg

Download:Gimme a Beer

10. Gary Clark Jr.
Austin, Texas
(Wed., 12 p.m., La Zona Rosa)

This skilled blues revivalist is quickly gaining national attention (and rightfully so), but the Austin native has been a hometown hero for years. Way back in 2001, Mayor Kirk Watson declared May 3 to be Gary Clark, Jr. Day, in honor of the then-17-year-old guitar whiz. Clark will likely be wowing his home crowd with cuts off of his latest, 2011’s Bright Lights EP.—Bonnie Stiernberg

Download: “Bright Lights

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