Between March 17 and March 20, thousands of musicians, some signed and many more hoping to be signed, will descend upon Austin for the annual South by Southwest music conference. Nearly three dozen of these acts call the Bay Area home, so here are our picks for local bands worth checking out while in Texas. There's no way you'll be able to catch them all, but any of these recommended acts will put your night into the "win" column.
The Morning Benders
The Morning Benders have a mellow, drifting take on acoustic-guitar-and-organ–driven psychedelic pop, with occasional drum machine outbursts to imply modernity. That'll make fans of Badfinger and the Flaming Lips very happy, as well as groupies for Grizzly Bear — whose Chris Taylor coproduced the Benders' new record, Big Echo.
Hunx and His Punx
Hunx, aka Seth of Gravy Train!!!!, plays humorous and homoerotic garage-pop songs like "Hey Rocky" and "You Don't Like Rock 'n' Roll," splitting the difference between Shonen Knife and T. Rex, sonically speaking. The group offers first-take amateurism and juvenile humor — plus plenty of handclaps, which are always a plus.
High on Fire
The heaviest band since amps were invented, Oakland's High on Fire recently released Snakes for the Divine, the trio's most stylistically varied and assured album to date. Live, they'll celebrate by tearing your face off with pure metal fury. Matt Pike's gargling-gravel vocals and post-Sabbath guitar riffs will roll over helpless (and happy about it) audience members like a square-wheeled truck speeding downhill.
If the Jacka's lyrics are to be believed, he likes girls, going out to clubs, showing off his clothes and his car, and earning money in various extralegal ways. It's been a long time since hip-hop was about what you had to say in this way. Here, it's also all about how you say it, and the MC's voice adds a slight edge of gruffness to a 50 Cent–ish delivery, to impressive effect.
Hyphy rapper Mistah F.A.B.'s minimalist electro beats and subdued delivery (not to mention his ultragarish MySpace page) can serve to mask real lyrical talent. He's known to fans as a Lil Wayne–level freestyler — and he serves his fans well. Though he's signed to Atlantic, he offers free downloads of almost his entire discography, from official albums to mix tapes, at his own site.
Sonny and the Sunsets
Sonny and the Sunsets are a low-key "beach pop" (imagine a cross between early Beach Boys and a bunch of dudes strumming and singing around a campfire) ensemble that includes leader Sonny Smith and Kelley Stoltz. There are dashes of Jonathan Richman and the softer side of the Velvet Underground in their songs, and they always seem to be enjoying themselves, a point in their favor.
Moon Duo is a project featuring keyboardist Sanae Yamada and Wooden Shjips singer and guitarist Ripley Johnson. The music the two make is gentle, occasionally muffled drone-rock in the spirit of Silver Apples, Suicide without the hostility, and/or Stereolab without the pop hooks. It offers lots of oscillating hum and occasional stabs at melody.
Grass Widow is a female trio making don't-mind-us garage-pop in the post-Shaggs spirit of Slant 6 or Shonen Knife, without the Japanese group's overemphasis on cuteness. Its members all sing in a way that combines Nico-esque calm with folky harmonies, while the music jangles along, occasionally revving up to near-rockingness.
Japanese-American rapper and producer Lyrics Born has made quite a name for himself as a solo artist, a member of Latyrx, and one of the founders of the Quannum label alongside DJ Shadow and Blackalicious. In addition to his continuing solo work, he most recently served as executive producer on Love and Understanding, the debut solo album by his wife, powerhouse R&B vocalist Joyo Velarde.
Production duo Lazer Sword makes "future bass" music — basically, electro with analog synth zaps flying in all directions and a goofy sense of humor. As DJs, a typical set may encompass Dr. Dre, Mr. Oizo, Keak da Sneak, and a dozen or so artists you haven't heard of yet, but soon will.
Wallpaper. is an AutoTune-happy, Chromeo-esque electronic duo that writes silly lyrics ("I'd hit on myself if I could") and song titles ("I Got Soul, I'm So Wasted," "A Million Dollars," "Pool Party"). So, you know, don't come looking for earnest pleas for world peace, but do expect to dance — and perhaps leave with less clothing than you arrived with.
This six-piece band has found a unique and highly worthwhile path through the tangled, overgrown jungle that is the region between psychedelia, stoner rock, and proto-metal. It combines both sides of Led Zeppelin — the bombastic and the acoustic — with SubArachnoid Space's lysergic drift and pastoral folk, winding up with something quite beautiful and sometimes surprisingly heavy and rockin'.
Ty Segall is a doctrinaire, minimalist garage-rocker. He started out playing shows as a one-man band, cranking up his distorted guitar and kicking a drum with a tambourine attached. You can hear echoes of Jon Spencer and Billy Childish in his sound, but he has a talent for hooks, too, even if he buries them under noise and reverb.
Thee Oh Sees
If you still don't know Thee Oh Sees, the group's name should provide a hint as to what it sounds like. Yes, like Thee Headcoats and Thee Mighty Caesars, they practice primitivist garage-psych with a slightly shambling rhythm section, bare-bones melodies, and seriously echoed and reverbed guitars. Thee Oh Sees add male and female co-lead vocals to the setup, though, for an X-ish feel.
Souls of Mischief
Souls of Mischief are Bay Area hip-hop royalty. Their debut album, 93 'Til Infinity, was named one of the Top 100 Rap Albums by The Source, when that magazine still had credibility in such matters. They're cofounders of the Hieroglyphics collective, and released their latest CD, Montezuma's Revenge, in December.