There’s no better place to discover your next favorite band than Austin, Texas’ South By Southwest. This year, thousands of acts—from the road-worn veterans like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds to fresh-faced newcomers like ON AN ON—will perform across Austin’s venues, so odds are you’re not going to cross a street without hearing something you love (especially if you make it to one of our day parties).
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.
Releasing their first album Landmarks back in 2009, the Dallas, Texas-based boys of Air Review put themselves squarely on the radar of the Texas music scene. Dissatisfied with their debut, however, the band fell back and sought to revamp their image. After the Arcade Fire-esque sound that was 2011’s EP American Son, the result is this year’s Low Wishes, an album which brings the band’s folk leanings to the forefront. A beautiful and well-crafted collection of songs, Low Wishes shows that it’s never too late to make a great first impression.—Mark Rozeman
A folk-influenced rock band with the occasional psychedelic flourishes, Akron/Family deftly connects the dots between cerebral experimentation and heartfelt rawness. In a scene where indie rock so often can become generic and indistinguishable, you never quite know what you’ll be getting with Akron/Family—but, odds are, it’s gonna be something special and exciting.—Mark Rozeman
One of the many perks of SXSW is the weather, as many of us will trek to Austin and escape the tail end of winter—the lion March is said to come in like. It may be chilly back home, but it’s never the wrong time to pop on a fantastic surf-pop record and dream of sunnier climates. This year’s proof is in the Allah-Las’ stellar self-titled debut. Produced by Nick Waterhouse—another one of our favorite newcomers this year—the album features the kind of warm, psychedelic sounds that classic-rock enthusiasts are always trying to convince you just don’t get made anymore these days. Naysayers and nostalgists (assuming they’ve got two ears and an affinity for reverb) will have no choice but to fall in love with the Allah-Las, and if their first effort is any indication of the career that lies ahead of them, so will everyone else.—Bonnie Stiernberg
Though Alt-J has four members, the band is driven by the power of threes. “Alt-J” is, in fact, the keyboard shortcut for delta symbol (Go ahead, try it). Of all the tracks on the band’s Mercury Prize-winning debut, An Awesome Wave, “Tessellate” is the most representative of their allegiance to the energy of the triangle. Introduced by a series of weighty keyboard chords, the song proceeds with frontman Joe Newman’s nasally vocals singing “Triangles are my favorite shape / Three points where two lines meet” before ultimately suggesting, “Let’s tessellate.”—Ryan Bort
Autre Ne Veut
Arthur Ashin doesn’t speak or merely sing these words—barbed in bladed desperation, Ashin wields a falsetto that would make “Let’s Stay Together” sound like a sketchy proposition. As a weapon, that cut-glass range is criminally underused. More commonly, there’s the ooh baby falsetto (Al Green); the sad bastard falsetto (For Emma, Forever Ago); the high camp falsetto (“Big Girls Don’t Cry”). Self-protective mechanisms. The seducer adopting a vocal range that exceeds his own as a way of deflecting potential rejection from the precious ego. The grief-stricken separating themselves from pain and loss in a register outside their modal range. But the falsetto is so fully exposed that in immediate hand-to-hand conflict it’s too cutting and too vulnerable for all but the bravest to attempt: Jeff Buckley twisting the falsetto dagger “you should have come over.” Jimmy Somerville scaling aerials to seize his galvanizing selfhood in “Tomorrow” and “Smalltown Boy.”—Nathan Huffstutter
The Americana-tinged songwriting from St. Louis’s Bhi Bhiman hearkens back to times of music past, when storytelling was an art and minimal instrumentation went a long way. A first generation Sri Lankan-American, Bhiman’s music draws from his unique experience of an inside-outsider looking out at a world that is at once alien and bizarre, yet famliar and habitual at the same time. The songs that result are a mixture of both exposition and anecdote, with a hint of satire, to boot. Bhiman’s voice is a strong tenor which is capable of evoking passion in the listener, whatever the subject of the music. Songs like “Guttersnipe” and “Take What I’m Given,” denote tales of struggling to keep afloat and the associated turmoil, while “Time Heals” and “Crime of Passion” offer lighthearted and comical opinions about heartbreak and loss.—Tyler Bowden
Starting his music career fronting the English pub/punk band Riff Raff, Billy Bragg soon reinvented himself as an incisive songwriter with an eye towards leftist political causes. Well-regarded in his native country, Bragg came to major prominence with American audiences after collaborating with Wilco for the Mermaid Avenue series, a group of albums which brought to life a large collection of unreleased Woody Guthrie songs. Bragg’s latest album, Tooth & Nail finds him eschewing his incendiary political-minded vigor in favor of more intimate reflections on aging and relationships, with songs like album opener “No One Knows Nothing Any More” showing the singer at his most vulnerable.—Mark Rozeman
The Black Lips have always been notorious for their often controversial and always entertaining live shows. Though their most recent album, Arabia Mountain, was released last year, the Georgia natives didn’t miss a beat with their 2012 touring schedule. In addition to their usual run of dates, the adventurous punk rockers traveled to the Middle East in September, making stops in places like Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia. And let’s not forget their recent performance at Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Fest, during which a seemingly deranged Val Kilmer disrupted their show and eventually locked lips with guitarist Cole Alexander. It appeared as if Kilmer was re-inhabiting his role as Jim Morrison from 1991’s The Doors, but his on-stage cameo was actually part of a new Terrence Malick film. If Malick and company wanted mayhem, they chose the right band’s performance to walk in on.—Ryan Bort
Canadian indie act Braids is amazing on album—Just listen to 2011’s Native Speaker for proof there—but what’s even more interesting is to see their otherworldly tones come together through looping guitars, keyboards and vocals in a live setting. Here’s a group that’s using electronic instruments to breed something fresh and affecting, and it’s not a show you’ll want to miss.—Tyler Kane
Brass Bed has been slowly building up attention and critical praise over the past four years, releasing two full lengths and appearing prime for a breakthrough. With a much-anticipated third record on the way in early 2013, the band has decided to tide fans over with a three-song EP release, A Bullet For You. With a relaxed opening of reverb-drenched guitar, pleading vocals and a hooky chorus, the title track slowly rises until finally breaking into an all out release, each instrument trying to outdo the other in emotional intensity. In the end though, it all comes back to Christiaan Mader’s earnest coda, “I’d rather take a bullet for you.”—Zachary Philyaw