The past few years have seen an exponential increase in noise surrounding whether South by Southwest has jumped the proverbial shark. No matter: Anytime you get thousands of emerging artists together in one place, it’s a worthwhile endeavor. So, if you’re down in Austin and have already drunk your weight in Lone Stars, check out one of these 10 acts post-haste. Resting comfortably at home, where your bed doesn’t contain three sweaty dudes from Brooklyn? Let your fingers do the walking and take a listen.
1. Angel Olsen
Olsen released one of the more beautiful records of 2014 thus far—Burn Your Fire for No Witness—chock full of sparse and heartfelt confessionals. Listen and you’ll find there’s no surprise that she used to tour as a backing singer and guitarist for Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
These Oklahoma boys brandish a balls-out garage rock worthy of their all-caps moniker. “Try Me Out Sometime” is one of the band’s signature tunes; we recommend you heed the message.
3. Cloud Nothings
Cleveland’s Dylan Baldi leads this outfit which has seen a steady progression toward punk revivalism. 2012’s Attack on Memory was a bold, epic statement. Here and Nowhere Else, which sees a release next month, is a more taut effort, save the seven-minute propulsive and combustible “Pattern Walks.”
Listening to Eagulls’ self-titled debut, which was released earlier this month, leaves no doubt as to the group’s British punk roots. Its brand of post-punk nods to Public Image Ltd. and Johnny Rotten’s earlier group, the Sex Pistols. Offstage, the Leeds crew keeps its middle fingers extended, even penning a letter decrying SXSW last year.
5. Future Islands
Singles, this synthpop trio’s upcoming fourth album, could be its best. And Samuel Herring is one of the most engaging frontmen in pop music, pouncing around the stage like an angry boxer or a Shakespearean actor. Most of all, his body reminds one of Babe Ruth: a forceful torso connected to shaky stems. Even Letterman knows what’s up.
6. Isaiah Rashad / Schoolboy Q
A bit of a cheat, here, with two rappers slotted into a spot. Both are signed to Top Dawg, home of the critical darling and higher-profile Kendrick Lamar (who is also at SXSW). Schoolboy Q’s excellent Oxymoron was released last month and does well to aid the cerebral L.A. gangster rap—an oxymoron, itself, for some—movement that Lamar is spearheading. (The album opener is titled, what else, “Gangsta.”) Rashad released Cilvia Demo in January, bringing his Southern hip-hop to the expanding Top Dawg unit.
7. Mark Kozelek
Kozelek is the frontrunner for most heartbreaking album of the year, Sun Kil Moon’s Benji. As SKM, Kozelek wears his heart on his sleeve, professing love to his parents and tearing at the chest cavity with an ode to the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. Powerful stuff.
8. Mutual Benefit
As Mutual Benefit, Jordan Lee crafts intricate and idiosyncratic pop. His most recent effort, Love’s Crushing Diamond, is the kind of record you play to see if the girl you’re dating is cool enough to like it.
9. Wye Oak
Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack have been in the business for some time, but it’s about time the Baltimore duo got their due. Her voice is a powerful instrument; here’s hoping this year’s Shriek will live up to its title and rise above the fray.
10. Yellow Ostrich
Alex Schaaf began Yellow Ostrich as a solo project. The Brooklyn group has since expanded: Cosmos, released in February, has the pop appeal that would suit well fans of Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens alike.