The SXSW Music Conference in Austin, Texas, officially started Tuesday, but Wednesday is the day that the thousands of artists from all over the world really begin to pour in — and subsequently plug in — and rock out. Wednesday is also the day that I touch down in Texas, with an itinerary that includes a dozen in-person interviews with some of the fest’s most promising acts and a concert calendar that will likely shift based on the buzz that these acts generate. But for now, here is who I’m eager to hear.
Michael Kiwanuka: Everything about this Brit singer screams retro. Well, maybe not scream it as much as delicately sing it. He’s definitely tapped into the same strain of soul and folk (can I call that “soulk”?) that Marvin Gaye tapped into on “What’s Going On.” But where Kiwanuka’s sound and appearance are throwbacks, his talent is timeless.
Little Roy: A reggae artist from Jamaica who’s been re-cording since the ’60s with the island’s most legendary producers? That sounds a lot like Jimmy Cliff, who will also be at SXSW, but what sets Little Roy apart is that his latest album, “Battle For Seattle,” is all Nirvana covers!
Cloud Nothings: Speaking of Nirvana, remember in the ’90s when everybody tried to sound like them, but mostly just focused on their moody side, and totally ignored Kurt Cobain’s passion for pop melodies? Cloud Nothings fix that. This Cleveland combo combine the aforementioned moodiness with the aforementioned pop and decorate it with a whole lotta racket and quite possibly the best yelling of the past 10 years.
Youth Lagoon: Trevor Powers records quiet electronic bedroom music. I’m not dubbing it this because it sounds like he records it in his bedroom (although it does), but I’m calling it bedroom music because it’s made of the same blissful moods and melodies that the best dreams are made of.
Bleached: Imagine if the Ramones were really related ... and there were only two of them ... and they were girls! You’d basically have sisters Jessica and Jennifer Clavin. These L.A. women write melodic punk with an eye toward ’60s pop song structures, as evidenced in their tellingly titled awesome single, “Searching Through the Past.”
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: This young upstart from Jersey shows some promise. Wait ... I just Wikied this guy. Apparently he’s on his 17th album? What’s he doing at a conference for artists who haven’t broken out yet? He’s giving the conference’s key-note speech and playing a gig at an as-of-yet unannounced small club tomorrow. Boss!
Purity Ring: This Canadian electronic duo has been featured in Metro before, but because of the exposure that SXSW provides, this trip down South will be a big one for them and that weird hand-made instrument they lug around with them that looks like a twisted row of bar taps. The same holds true for their electronic compatriot Grimes.
J Roddy Walston & the Business: It’s not their leader’s first name that tempts me to use the word “rowdy” to describe these Baltimore boys. It’s the singer’s raw voice blended with crunchy guitars and soulful keys, delivering songs that sound like they may fall apart.