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10 Bands to Watch at SXSW 2013


January 22, 2012
So, it goes without saying that, with pretty much my entire 10 Bands to Watch in 2013 list en route to Austin, that they all come highly recommended. As for more recommendin': from amongst the teeming masses heading to Texas in search of hopes and dreams, here a bunch of budding bands due to stir up some brand new buzz. And also Vampire Weekend.

1. Bleached

Will Canzoneri
Last year Bleached were everywhere at SXSW; buzz-banding their way through 13 shows in four days. This year, they'll likely be taking things a little less crazy, but still be stirring up plenty of buzz. The Clavin sisters have finally finished Bleached's first LP; singing to Dead Oceans and delivering their debut disc, Ride Your Heart, on April 2. Meaning that their shows in Austin will come right at the moment that hype for the LP is starting to pick up; with fired-up first single, "Next Stop," doing little to dent the expectations that have build up. Across their singles thus far, the Clavins have shown a winning gift for melody amidst their overdriven garage-rock fuzz, and the potential of a plethora of pop-songs as good as "Searching Through the Past" makes them a SXSW must-see.

2. Diana

Vanessa Heins
Toronto soft-rockers Diana were one of our favorite new bands from 2012. Their first two tracks, "Born Again" and "Perpetual Surrender," lured listeners into a luxuriant world of nocturnal soft-rock, smeared under the washed-out sonic haze of chillwave. They've only just, now, had them pressed on wax, and they're now accompanied by a typically-delirious remix from Doldrums. Though they've still, officially, only turned out two tracks, the outfit are apparently closing in on finishing off their debut LP. Meaning, their shows in Austin will serve as window onto new material, and a proving ground for a project whose potential is, thus far, far beyond their live output.

3. Empress Of

Empress Of
Empress Of
Like Diana, Lorely Rodriguez's career as Empress Of consists, thus far, of two songs. Two really, really good songs. Well, okay: two really, really good songs and one genuinely-bizarre, old-school-HTML Empress Of website. "Don't Tell Me" is an echo-strewn, synthed-to-extremes slow-jam that sounds like it's swimming through dry ice. "Champagne" is just as languid and balladic, only with glissando guitar lines descending on Rodriguez's reverbed vocals. Each is a beautiful, teasing glimpse at a budding project; and SXSW has been, traditionally, a place where budding projects can come to make their name. Given how amazing Rodrigue's live video for Yours Tru.ly is, it seems eminently possible Empress Of will, by SXSW's end, be a made-name.

4. Merchandise

Aldo Padaldo
Merchandise's Children of Desire boasted 2012's best artwork booklet. It harbored not a single production credit or lyric, but the fictional journal of a neurotic, romantic youth prone to dream interpretation and finding symbolism in every social moment. The words were an extension of the themes of the LP; itself sounding teenaged and lovelorned, and lodged in a kind of collective memory. Over series of reverb-drenched, Goth-tinged epics, Carson Cox sung in a lovelorned lament whose genesis gets traced back to Morrissey. It was an unexpected LP from a crew of punks from the unlikely rock'n'roll outpost of Tampa, Flordia, but its genuine ambition seems, on listening, undeniable. Merchandise arrive at SXSW on the back of a new EP, Totale Nite, whose lead single, "Anxiety's Door," suggests a band bound for bigger stages.

5. Pacific Air

Pacific Air
Pacific Air
When Pacific Air titled their debut EP Long Live Ko Ko, it was in homage to their former band-name, Ko Ko; a sunny send-off to the past. Of course, the name they chose to replace it with proves far more evocative of the music made by Ryan and Taylor Lawhon, the Los Angeles-based brothers behind Pacific Air. They make heliophonic songs kissed by sunny harmonies and beachy melodies; drawing from sunshine-pop and soft-rock yet taking things to a more languorous, synth-draped place. There's a similarity of spirit to Gardens & Villa, another combo playing with Californian clichés in alive, vital ways; and Ryan Lawhon's voice is high, keening, and occasionally Autotuned. They'll arrive in Austin in the middle of a month-long tour with Ra Ra Riot, and with their debut LP due for a release later in 2013.

6. Phèdre

Semi-mysterious Canadian combo Phèdre were one of the most memorable new bands of 2012, coming out of nowhere with myth-making mystery and an awesome debut LP. Though they billed themselves as "lovers from Monaco, raised in a cave of gold," they were the recording project of electro bro Doldrums and two members of indie-pop combo Hooded Fang; their fuzzy, synth-pop songs sounding like jukebox standards through a malfunctioning video-game, with three bizarre, contrasting voices singing out over the top. Though conceived as a one-off, Phèdre is now inching towards fully-fledged rockband status; with a host of live-shows planned, and a second LP in the works.

7. Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend
Tim Soter
Whether attending or recommending SXSW, I'd normally go out of my way to avoid the famous bands descending upon Austin. The SXSW experience is little about sticking to known commodities, far moreso about leaping into the unknown; stumbling upon random bands and/or seeking out those who've only put out like one song thus far. But, there's something about seeing Vampire Weekend's name on the list of Performing Artists that piques my interest. For one, they'll arrive not mid-touring-grind, but ahead of the curve: playing here in advance of their as-yet-untitled, much-anticipated third LP, due out in April. Meaning, it's possible Vampire Weekend's Austin show/s will feel like genuine, non-contrived events: offering the effective 'debut' of their new material.

8. Waxahatchee

Waxahatchee's debut LP, American Weekend, was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2012; a home-recorded, intimate, sincere, passionate record that was never the subject of bated blog buzz or a flash-of=hype, instead seemingly recruiting listeners on an individual basis. Katie Crutchfield's solo debut —named after a creek in her home-state of Alabama— is a stark piece of confessional singer-songwriterism, set to a solitary acoustic guitar and the overdriven hiss of a lo-fi recording. Musically, Crutchfield owes debts to Madeline Adams and John Darnielle, but she's never as playful as either; the songs on American Weekend, instead, painful. They're filled with memories, details, proper place names; a series of sunkissed snapshots of the past that feel more like a memoir than a breakup record.

9. Wax Idols

Wax Idols
Wax Idols hail from the same San Franciscan scene as fellow Slumberland acts Terry Malts and Weekend, and leader Hether Fortune (or, if you're not into myth-making, Heather Fedewa) once spent time playing in Hunx and His Punx. True to form, the debut Wax Idols LP, No Future —effectively a one-woman-band undertaking for Fortune— was a rollicking garage-rock record with lashings of serious noise and fuzzed-out in-the-red production. Things've changed radically on Discipline & Desire, a four-piece-band LP that touches on an early-'80s sound steeped in Goth, bubblegum pop, and noise rock; Fortune channeling Blixa Bargeld and Siouxsie Sioux in equal measures. It's a dark, dramatic disc (try: "AD RE:IAN") that marks a huge step up for a band on the up.

10. White Lung

White Lung
Michelle Ford
There's been a gradual re-embrace of hardcore by indie listeners in recent years; the likes of Fucked Up, Ceremony, and Iceage all finding the kind of blog buzz rarely reserved for bands so loud, furious, and punk. Canadian combo White Lung have been earmarked, by many, as a band duly on the crossover rise; their two LPs thus far —2010's It's the Evil and 2012's Sorry— rolling out with buzzsaw guitars, righteous fury, and frenetic speed. Due to the sloganeering sneer of singer Mish Way —and the attendant feminist politics of a band 75% female— White Lung have been compared, favorably, with the original riot-grrrl movement. Of course, where White Lung truly shine is on stage; and their shows in various improvised Austin spaces have the potential to be great.
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