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10 International Acts to Watch at SXSW 2013

By

January 29, 2013
With over 2000 bands crawling all over Austin come March, the SXSW festival is loaded with those who've traveled far in making their pilgrimage to the biggest indie-music event of the year. Yet, some have come further than others; and those are the bands we're talking here. Half the below wanderers will be winging their way to Texas from an entirely different hemisphere. My breakout-priming Bands to Watch in 2013 features a host of foreign names en route to Austin —try: The History of Apple Pie, Savages, Indians, and Chvrhces— so let's leave them out of this countdown, and find ten (well, actually, twelves) more international acts to await at SXSW 2013.

Cate Le Bon

Cate Le Bon
Angel Ceballos
Cate Le Bon's second LP, Cyrk, was one of the best albums of last year, and, just for good measure, she followed it up with a follow-on EP, Cyrk II, that was just as impressive. Le Bon arrives in Austin not, then, as some untested blog-buzz recipient, a hot act with like a song to their name. She's been here before, toured America opening for St. Vincent, and generally proven herself. But, at a festival in which watching a string of buzz bands can result in more letdowns than moments of inspiration, having a known commodity this undeniably-good-but-still-a-little-under-the radar feels like a gift unto itself; Le Bon's restrained strangeness and thoughtful compositions the opposite of hype-chasing novelty.

The Deer Tracks

The Deer Tracks
Salmon Paulo
The trilogy is a staple of blockbuster cinema, but in terms of record-making, few bands would indulge in such sustained nerdiness. Not so Swedish duo The Deer Tracks, who follow up 2011's The Archer Trilogy: Part 1 and The Archer Trilogy: Part 2 with the February-due The Archer Trilogy: Part 3. Living up to the nerdery of the trilogy, the Deer Tracks see their series-of-records as an 'epic adventure' —about, assumedly, an archer— and even rolled tape on these songs in the snowbound Swedish woods. If this sounds silly and/or awful, it's not once you hit play, and hear Elin Lindfors sing. Jams like "Lazarus" and "W" make good with moonlit, pagan-ritual synth-pop steeped in the sexual/mystical aura of prime Siouxsie Sioux, with enough pop chops to earn comparisons to Niki and the Dove.

Fakuta

Fakuta
Michita Rex
It's long past the point of strange that the awesome indie-pop scene in Santiago —home to Gepe, Javiera Mena, Dënver, Los Embajadores, and countless more— has gained so little traction outside of the Spanish-speaking world. Last year, when recommending both Astro and Alex Anwandter at SXSW 2012, I wondered if anyone in the blogosphere would take note of either act. This year, Fakuta trips to Texas; Pamela Sepúlveda bringing her brand of swooning synth-pop to the world. Sepúlveda is one of the figures behind the brilliant Michita Rex label; her last Fakuta LP, Al Vuelo, was one of the great unsung albums of 2011, and she's just posted an Al Vuelo remix record to her Soundcloud. She is, in short, awesome; maybe, this year in Austin, a few more may notice.

Fear of Men

Fear of Men
Jacob Lillis
London twee-poppers Fear of Men were one of 2012's best new bands, turning out a run of sweet singles on an array of various labels. Those singles are being collected on a compilation put out by Kanine Records, called —fittingly enough— Early Fragments. A brand new single cut for the comp, "Seer," shows Fear of Men at their best; playing a brand of airy, melancholy jangle drawled in the doleful singing of songwriter Jane Weiss (even better: check out old single "Born"). Fear of Men will arrive in Austin for their first-ever American shows, and will be the most exciting band at SXSW for fans of all things twee.

Girls Names/Sea Pinks

Girls Names
Richard Torrens
Northern Irish moodists Girls Names are just about to release their second LP, The New Life, whose oh-so-symbolic title suggests what's in store. The follow-up to their 2011 Dead to Me debut is another piece of glowering, guitar-chiming post-punk miserablism, but its grey skies feel less oppressive, more expansive; as the songs stretch out longer and, even, betray hints of a krautrock influence (as heard in the seven-minute title-track). Girls Names drummer Neil Brogan also has his own outfit, the awesome Sea Pinks, en route to Austin. I'm a signed-up Sea Pinks fan: Dead Seas was one of 2011's best records, and follow-up Freak Waves was one of last year's most overlooked LPs. These days, Sea Pinks is very much its own thing and no mere side-project; which makes both bands most worthy of a recommendation.

Holy Balm

Holy Balm
Not Not Fun
At the end of last year, with the Mayan Apocalypse looming and the echoes of a thousand '12 albums ringing in my ears, I threw together a list of 20 Overlooked and Underrated LPS of 2012; and, when doing so, I totally had a place saved for Holy Balm. Then they ended up on the cutting-room floor —endless list-making is a cruel business— which made me feel bad, because I listened to their awesomesly-titled It's You LP a bunch but never got around to typing about it. So here goes: this Sydney trio makes a mighty form of deadpan electro plod that makes as if their shuffling, shambling indie-pop is some kind of righteous disco. Jams like "Town Called Hope," "Take It" and "Holy Balm Theme" show Holy Balm at their most Holy Balmy, and present the band's love-it-or-leave-it sound for your judgment. Me, I'm proudly in the 'love' camp.

The Holydrug Couple/Föllakzoid

The Holydrug Couple
Sacred Bones
Chilean duo The Holydrug Couple are —fittingly— a couple of dudes from Santiago playing mellow, daydreamy, blissed-out psychedelia. Yet, it's not all wafty atmosphere and stoned ambience: there's a love of songcraft at play that keeps things from drifting too far off into the ether. Instead, the chilled vibes and good grooves will appeal to fans of everything from Brightblack Morning Light to Tame Impala. The Holydrug Couple's Ives Sepúlveda also plays in Föllakzoid, another crew of Santiago bros, whose take on psychedelia is far more stretched out and instrumental, touching on the most cosmic reaches of kosmische. Both bands are signed to Sacred Bones in the US, and will be making their first-ever pilgrimages to the Northern Hemisphere for SXSW.

Kirin J. Callinan

Kirin J. Callinan
Tex Crick
The obnoxious video for "WIIW," the first solo single for Sydney's Kirin J. Callinan, was one of the great music promos of 2012; laying down an audacious gauntlet for a yet-to-materialize debut album. Callinan and video director Kris Moyes tried to take things up a notch with a bizarre piece of performance-art-cum-schoolboy-sedition at Melbourne's Sugar Mountain festival, involving the planned triggering of photosensitive epilepsy on stage. It incited both outrage and praise, but even as a failed faceplant, it showed that Callinan's currently inhabiting a place of provocative dickishness and high theatricality. And at SXSW, in which keeping-to-the-clock humility is the order of business, you can find yourself yearning for a showman...

Popstrangers

Popstrangers
Frances Carter
New Zealand alterna-rock revisionists Popstrangers will hold plenty of appeal for fans of the early-'90s, wielding guitars equal parts superfuzz'd and shoegazed. Though the Auckland outfit were, like so many Kiwi kids, verily raised on the Flying Nun catalog, the band have gravitated to the noisier, more obnoxious, and generally-less-beloved sounds that came after the classic era; more reminiscent of Bailter Space or Love's Ugly Children. "Heaven," the first single from their debut LP, Antipodes, gives a fair taste of Popstrangers' sound; and those who've been down with bands like Yuck or Cloud Nothings will find plenty to like. Antipodes is due out February 26 on Carpark, and the band seem likely to arrive in Austin already riding some bona fide cool-new-band buzz.

Rites Wild

Rites Wild
Not Not Fun
As Rites Wild, Melbourne-based, Adelaide-reared synth-prodder Stacey Wilson makes monochromatic electro jams dowsed in dark shadows, Gothy overtones, and a muffled audio quality that makes her isolationist incantations feel borderline sinister. Yet her debut LP, Ways of Being —which was pressed by inspired Los Angeleno imprint Not Not Fun— has a sweet pop charm lurking beneath its early-Zola-Jesus-ish exterior. Wilson also makes synthed-out soundscapes as Regional Curse, and plays bass and guitar in Terrible Truths, an awesome, post-punk-ish trio that are earning a budding rep as one of Australia's best live bands. Neither project is officially on their way to SXSW, but that's not the same thing as saying they won't be playing any shows; so, y'know, fingers crossed.
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