by GENEVIEVE OLIVER
It’s that time of year again – as you’ve probably noticed if you’re a music fan with an internet presence, everyone and their mother is gearing up for SXSW, so you’d best be mentally, physically, and metaphysically prepared. Even if you can’t make it down to Austin to hang out with us and a ton of amazing artists this year, there’s still lots to look forward to, from live streaming shows, to the inevitability of the unveiling of a new, especially unholy Taco Bell / Doritos mashup, to filtering through an avalanche of 140-character twitter reports about potential next big things, just what it feels like to be on a four-day diet of tacos, and/or general drunk ramblings (okay, only the first one sounds at all fun). Whether you will or won’t be heading down, we made a list of our eight favorite artists playing the festival that you totally need to check out. Hopefully we’ll see you, and if not, we promise to keep the twitter ramblings punchy, reasonable, and sober-ish.
A rat king happens when a bunch of rats get their tails stuck together and run around the sewer as a single animal. It’s indeed gross, but it’s also kind of inspiring that a bunch of little creatures could cooperate as one super-rat. RATKING, such stylized, is also the name a bunch of young, postmodern New York rappers have given to their project, and they’ve got our vote to be 2014’s breakout hip-hop act, thanks to their taste for updated old-school beats and effortless, brilliant, traded-off verses compounding into one smirkingly evil entity. They’re playing a few SXSW shows, and we’re hoping for a chance to see how they reproduce their singular sound live.
07 PERFECT PUSSY
We first encountered Perfect Pussy via their four-track, twelve-minute debut cassette I have lost all desire for feeling, a raucous, Barthes-quoting feedback squall of an introductory statement whose first track ends with singer Meredith Graves screaming “I am full of light, I am filled with joy, I am full of peace,” after ruminating on her betrayal by a friend. It’s the kind of music that should be too abrasive to rip your heart out but does anyway. They’ll release their debut LP Say Yes to Love right after SXSW, so we’re likely to hear a ton of new songs – and it’s an added bonus that Graves’ stage presence is rapidly becoming legendary.
06 VIET CONG
The Calgary band Women made two arguably flawless (and oh, we will argue) records during their five-year tenure as a band, reportedly broke up after an onstage argument in Victoria, BC, then broke up for good after the death of their lead guitarist, Chris Reimer. The only good news is that the surviving three members of Women now play in other bands – and Viet Cong, the new project of bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace, is one of them. Their recorded output consists solely of a sold-out tour cassette, but a little internet spelunking will reward you with jangly guitar-pop gems like “Throw It Away” and more experimental material like “Select Your Drone.” We can’t wait to see what they can do live.
By this time you probably already know that the Leeds quintet Eagulls’ self-titled debut is really good. Like a better-produced Iceage, the guys have a knack for catchy, smart punk guitar riffs and big, anthemic choruses that’ll make you pause mid-moshpit to belt lyrics along with frontman George Mitchell (“TOUGH LUCK TOUGH LUCK TOUGH LUCK!!”). This’ll be their second SXSW – the first one prompted them to write a now-infamous open letter calling out their peers for “rubbing the press’s clit” – and after making a splash at the last one and the interim CMJ, they’re undeniably one of the top acts to catch.
04 ANGEL OLSEN
This year our vote for “most likely to make us cry at SXSW” goes handily to Angel Olsen, whose new record Burn Your Fire For No Witnessis likely to be on heavy rotation for the rest of 2014. Olsen’s songwriting will send chills up your spine from the opening note and her brutally honest lyrics will effortlessly wheedle out all your quashed memories, but we’re obsessed overall with the way she conveys not only sadness, but anger – the way she delivers “I am the only one now, you may not be around” at the end of Burn’s opening track “Unfucktheworld” makes you feel like she could set you on fire. We’ll see if she can at one of the myriad of shows she’s playing at SXSW.
TEEN are unequivocally our favorite band out there with “teen” in their name – Teeny Lieberson of Here We Go Magic and her sisters and friend are stunningly chameleonic, trying their hands adeptly at dream-pop, new wave, and R&B; at every turn, their knack for unique, compelling songwriting shines through. They’ve just announced their new record, The Way and the Color, and shared its lead single “Not For Long,” which we’ve found it literally impossible to turn off; it plays like a slow-burning, R&B version of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge.” We can’t wait to see them pull off those harmonies live.
02 DESTRUCTION UNIT
Destruction Unit are a noise-punk / heavy psych / generally brutal demon-summoning five-piece from Phoenix, Arizona, and the opening track on their 2013 Sacred Bones debut Deep Trip goes “GIVE US DRUGS!!!!” I know that music journalists, myself included, are prone to generously throwing around hyperbole like “face-melting” and “brain-destroying,” but Destruction Unit are one of the fiercest, most intense live bands I’ve ever seen, so you’d best hold on to your fucking face and brain, and bring earplugs. The band’s playing about twelve shows at SXSW and I’ll see you at all of them if I don’t go into a deafness-induced coma (is that possible?) by Thursday afternoon.
01 FKA TWIGS
We only know for sure that the London electronic songwriter / alien priestess FKA Twigs is playing one SXSW showcase, but we’re sure all of the known music-blogging world have it inscribed in permanent marker on their list of must-catch sets. We’ve been singing girl’s praises since we first heard “Weak Spot,” so you know you’ll see us there, and after watching that amazing video of her performing EP highlight “Hide” in a Mayan village in Mexico, we’re especially anticipating watching her reproduce her absolutely singular sound live. You should be too – let’s hope she takes the opportunity to break out new material, and also that she confirms more appearances.