Amidst the many artists that flooded SWSX this year, these 15 new and rising talents stand out amidst the fray.
Though established acts like Tove Lo and Bleachers made appearances at South By Southwest in Austin this year, the music festival is more about discovering artists looking for more exposure and/or promoting new releases. Among the 40-plus bands I saw this year, these 15 new(ish) artists stood out for their energy and originality.
Blending contemporary R&B with Afro-Cuban rhythms and percussion instruments derived from Yoruba culture, sisters Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz are doing something that no one else is doing in music right now. Naomi switches between a synth deck, a cajón, and a batá drum set, creating a polyrhythmic playground of beats on which the sisters' harmonies and Lisa-Kaindé's keyboard can frolic. That's not to say Ibeyi's music amounts to fun and games; rather, songs like "Mama Says" explore their mother's solitude in the wake of their father's death, and "Yanira" eulogizes their older sister. Ibeyi bring ancient traditions and ultra-modern influences together, remaining true to the heartache they've suffered but also capturing the exhilarating feeling of discovering new, wholly unexplored musical territory.
California transplant Garrett Borns and his band have inherited the glam-rock bombast of '80s stalwarts like Queen while sounding eminently of-the-moment. BØRNS is a stunning live performer, complementing gloriously catchy gems like "10,000 Emerald Pools" with androgynous, Jagger-esque vamping in between the soaring electric guitar parts he plays. It's hard to imagine a world in which singles like "Electric Love" don't permeate the international airwaves, so be sure to namedrop BØRNS and catch a live show before he totally blows up.
Comparing Texas crooner Leon Bridges to Sam Cooke is valid but also too easy. Complemented by his exceptional backing band, which includes members of indie group White Denim, he puts some rock muscle into the body of Motown-influenced soul that we'll see on his anticipated début LP later this year. Right down to his natty gray suit and the pair of perfectly in-sync backup singers that encase his voice in harmonies, Bridges's act mines retro gold without sounding overly derivative, thanks in part to the electric instruments that gain more traction live than they do on record. At the end of South By Southwest, Bridges walked away with the prestigious Grulke Prize for Developing U.S. Act, a duly deserved honor to cap off a weeklong winning streak in Austin.
When you go see Torres live for the first time, don't forget your earplugs. The volume sneaks up on you, as McKenzie Scott has a tendency to start a song softly and then launch into reverb-drenched squalls of post-punk guitar noise, even throwing in the occasional metal scream as on "Strange Hellos". South By Southwest this year was (pleasantly) crawling with badass, female-fronted rock bands, and Torres stands out thanks to Scott's ability to find shades of pain and playfulness within the deep tones of her alto voice. Music critics and disaffected college kids alike will surely be spinning her new album Sprinter nonstop when it drops in May.
Singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow is already a sensation in his native Ireland, but a warm welcome into American popular music appears to be on the horizon. Comparisons to Bon Iver are inevitable; he builds songs around simple, droning organ chords and sings in a sky-high falsetto resembling Justin Vernon's. While the latter performer maintains a fairly even-keeled tone throughout his music, McMorrow lets his vocal rip in songs like "Cavalier", reaching vein-popping notes that Mariah or Whitney would likely applaud. In experimenting with the outer limits of his vocal instrument, McMorrow has found a way to make the ubiquitous sound of the male singer-songwriter feel vitally novel and interesting.