SXSW: EW's take on the ten best new bands of the fest, and where you can hear more


Image Credit: Gary Miller/; Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty Images

Now that the dust has settled (literally; nobody returns from Austin without accidentally exporting a good handful of gold-toned Texas dirt) from this year’s SXSW Music Festival, we’re left with the headlines—Kanye! FoosTasers as indie-rock crowd control!—and the memories.

Of 2,000 bands, a mortal human can only conceivably see some small, smidgen-y percent. But even smidgens translate into dozens, and below, my L.A.-based colleague James Hibberd and I list our favorites outside the Kanye/Foos/taser axis.

(If you weren’t there but you want to fake it, iTunes also has its own dozens of digital-only live-performance EPs from this year’s festival, ranging from Ryan Bingham and Jessica Lea Mayfield to Glasser and Lucinda Williams, most for under $5; click here to view.)

Leah’s Picks

Odd Future (a.k.a. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All)
I mean, I’m not exactly going out on a limb with this one; people talking about OF at this year’s fest was the new people talking about where the best free day-party booze is. And frankly, the L.A. hip-hop collective is not a remotely sure thing; an incendiary Thrasher party set (in which de facto leader Tyler the Creator broke a kid’s nose in a speaker-stack dive; kid subsequently seemed pretty stoked with his bloody badge of honor) and scene-stealing Woodies performance was just as likely as the 15-lackluster-minutes-and-a-walk-off they pulled in their headlining slot at the Billboard showcase.

Still, there’s something about their whole ethos—in a lot of ways, much closer to the ’90s hardcore/skate-punk scene than anything resembling modern commercial hip-hop—that felt fresh; little else in rap these days feels dangerous or spontaneous in the way Tyler and Co. do, even if all that swag stuff is just extremely smart guerrilla marketing.

Foster the People
No crazy game-changing here, just headily melodic, vaguely disco pop-sugar pastiche from L.A. major-label newbies (they recently signed to Columbia).Think sweetened-up MGMT hand-clap anthems—minus the pouts and the ponchos, plus a little Peter Bjorn & John whistle-break boogie. Now go stream “Houdini” and “Pumped Up Kicks” here.

The Head and the Heart
Again, not breaking the barriers of new sound, but after days of overly-hyped letdowns (Yuck‘s Dino Jr. fuzz never gelled for me live; Twin Shadow similarly proved that alt-’80s imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, not mastery) these new Sub Pop signees felt like laying back in a patch of soft green grass (not beer-vomit-soaked dirt). The easy-like-Sunday-morning side of me that very much enjoys a straightforward, expertly-crafted folk-rock hook got what she wanted with TH&TH; of almost every new band I saw at the festival, these guys seemed the most ready for their “Tonight’s Saturday Night Live musical guest is…” closeup. Commercial? Absolutely; they’ve undoubtedly studied at the feet of current/former labelmates the Shins, Fleet Foxes, and Band of Horses. And clearly learned a lot.

Tune-Yards (a.k.a. tUnE-yArDs)
Back to weird, excellently. One-woman bedlam-generator Merrill Garbus’s loop-pedal-assisted, primally rhythmed chants and skronks were the sonic equivalent of a hidden-treasure junkyard jalopy: wildly torqued, possibly not street-legal, and never, in the best way, the same ride twice.

Kurt Vile
OK, I’m cheating on this one; I know he’s hardly new, and the “show” was actually me and about eight other bystanders (you are unchanged, Mr. Matt Pinfield!) on the sun porch at the MTV Hive house somewhere deep in the Austin suburbs. But the chance to see an artist I love while birds chirped and breezes blew and nobody threw a Sparks can at anybody’s head was kind of unbeatable. And even though I caught him again the next day with a full band (and without half of his just-stolen gear), preceding Philadelphia’s Tom-Waits-at-the-carnival pranksters Man Man at Auditorium Shores, watching him plink away all by himself on spare, heartbreaking versions of his “Jesus Fever” and “Baby’s Arms” was possibly the loveliest moment of the festival for me.

James’ Picks

L.A.-based beach hippies may not have the most polished live act (they only formed last year), but their self-titled EP has one hook-filled song after another, and the bandmates have cute-appeal to spare. Fans of the Thrills will take to this outfit, whose upbeat songs like “Colours,” “Don’t Say Oh Well” and “Naked Kids” remind me of sunny, top-down convertible days in Southern California.

Beach Fossils
“We hate every f–king thing about this f–king venue,” declared Beach Fossils lead singer Dustin Payseur from the stage, dead serious. “This venue f–king sucks!” Well, not everybody can get a showcase at Stubb’s. Brooklyn’s Beach Fossils was stuck upstairs at Buffalo Billiards. The cause of the singer’s distress wasn’t evident to the crowd, and the situation only got worse when he broke a guitar string without having a backup ready. “Does anybody have a guitar we can use?” he asked, before taking a mid-set break to restring. That none of this actually mattered is a testament to the strength of the band’s songs and performance—their energetic surf-indie rock wowed the crowd.

J-Roddy Walston and The Business
One of the best things about SXSW is not the bands you plan to see, but the bands you happen to catch by accident. That was the case with roots rockers J-Roddy Walston and The Business, who commanded an intense set during Rachael Ray’s party at Stubb’s (say what you will about her TV show, Ray knows how to throw a live music showcase). The band has opened for acts like the Black Keys and the Hold Steady, and fans of both will find something to like here.

Little Comets
Another unexpected find: This Newcastle buzz band have been compared to Vampire Weekend and Mystery Jets, and is fronted by a high-pitched singer performing moody atmospheric pop songs. They’ve taken a unique approach to marketing: Crashing U.K. universities for quick impromptu mini-shows before running from security; thankfully nobody chased them from the SXSW stage during their first visit to the U.S.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
Considered one of the best bands to come out of Austin in years, Black Joe Lewis has a garage-rock R&B sound— high-energy, brassy-horned, Southern-fried soul. The outfit is backed by Spoon drummer Jim Eno as producer, and anybody with a single called “Booty City” must be checked out.

Comments (19 total) Add your comment
  • SDTim

    What, no Megan Slankard? That girl ROCKED at SXSW! :-)

    • Leslie

      I love them and was amazing

  • Michael

    Love Kurt Vile. I can’t stop listening to his new album.

  • Bren

    Pumped Up Kicks is one of those songs you can’t get out of your head. It’s been playing on my Adult Alt. Slacker station pretty regularly lately.

  • JC

    OFWGKTA are awesome! Can’t wait to see them at Coachella. Swag. Free Earl. Yadda Yadda.

  • Chris

    The Dirty Guv’nahs were the best newcomers. They’re definitely a band to watch out for.

  • Sleepy in Seattle

    PonyHomie was rad, too! They played on St. Patty’s Day and I couldn’t stop dancing.

  • Reba

    I just came back from a Foster the People concert tonight – literally like 2 hours ago and they are amazing! Although they have some similarities to MGMT, I totally disagree with the comment about them being “sweetened” up. That is the initial and WRONG reaction people have of them because if you read their lyrics, you soon realize how morbid and complex they are. They are SOOOOO good live. I can’t believe it took them this long to get a record deal. Btw, the concert was SOLD OUT. So kudos for them for consistently selling out shows before signing onto a record deal.

    • Ben

      Do you know how I know you’re gay?

      • Reba

        What? That’s such a mature comment. Please, so spread your genius.

    • jon

      uh what are you talking about, they had a major label contract before they even released any music…

  • oghello

    I was new in the world of bloggers so please guidance yes

  • joshterzino

    You must have missed Dastardly. If you’d seen them they would be on your list.

  • anang

    nice post!


    Do you know how I know you’re gay?

  • RichardRose

    I agree with SDtim, megan slankard got totally overlooked, she rocks and rocks hard! Next year a must see.

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