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Veterans, Newcomers Among The Best Of South By Southwest

Of the Oakland Press

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AUSTIN, Texas — If people ever say they saw everything — or everything that was good — at the annual South By Southwest Music + Media Conference, you can call them liars.

More than 1,700 acts from around the world trooped to Austin earlier this month to perform official showcases and assorted party gigs at the 22nd edition of the music industry’s spring break. But it’s not all fun and games; most anyone there is looking to launch a new project or enterprise, score a recording contract or curry favor as the year’s Next Big Thing designee. It is, in fact, serious business.

So is finding the good stuff, which involves sorting through plenty of chaff and making some judicious guesses. That said, here’s a dozen acts whose stock certainly went up after their SXSW appearances:

Charlotte Sometimes: There was no shortage of earnest female singer-songwriters populating SXSW’s roster this year, but this 20-year-old from Wall, N.J., with her two-tone hair and playful demeanor, stood out from the pack. An EP is just out, and her first album drops on May 6, followed by a stint on this summer’s Vans Warped Tour.

Electric Touch: This Austin band boasts a classic British riffrock flavor (they busted into the Beatles’ “Come Together” at one point) and big harmonies for a sound that’s mainstream-friendly but still kicks a healthy amount of butt.

The Grand Archives: Frontman Mat Brooke needn’t kick himself for leaving the currently buzzed-about Band of Horses; his latest endeavor in Seattle is another winner, with shimmering melodies and rich harmonies that recall both vintage Merseybeat and Laurel -

Canyon country rock. The quintet’s self-titled debut is a rootsy pop treat.

The Heavy: The quintet from tiny Noid, England, boasts a big, no-quit metallic funk groove that sounds like Curtis Mayfield meets Gov’t Mule. Frontman Swaby has charismatic star potential, and a new album due April 1 is a must-get.

MGMT: The Brooklyn quintet showed that its hit, “Time to Pretend,” isn’t just make-believe with some powerfully performed and well-attended shows — including one at the hot-ticket Playboy/C3 after-hours party — that should court some more attention to its January debut album, “Oracular Spectacular.”

R.E.M.: This is hardly the kind of “discovery” act that SXSW covets, but the modern rock veterans used this year’s festival as a launch pad for their rocking new album, “Accelerate,” which comes out April 1 and reminds many of the group’s earlier work. Its headline performance at Stubb’s certainly did, a high-energy 95 minutes that featured 10 songs from “Accelerate,” choice oldies such as “Second Guessing” and “Auctioneer” and plenty of political discourse from frontman Michael Stipe.

Santogold: A more musical take on the cross-pollinating M.I.A. model, this cutting-edge club artist from Brooklyn incorporated a pair of androidlike backing singer-dancers and DJ work by Diplo for an arresting set that should steer even more attention her way.

The Ting Tings: The U.K. duo reverse the White Stripes formula (she plays the guitar most of the time), and there are a lot more electronics and sampling involved. The songs are cheeky good fun, and the energy is infectious. The single “Great DJ” is a good introduction to the duo’s album, which is due out in early May.

Vampire Weekend: The buzz band of this year’s SXSW had much to prove to skeptics of the youthful Columbia University-formed quartet’s quick rise and early-career successes, including a “Saturday Night Live” appearance and a Spin magazine cover. It was indeed the Vampire’s weekend, however, with consistent showcase appearances where the group’s arty, pan-global sound was capably delivered — with Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison, no doubt feeling as if he were seeing a younger version of his old band, watching at the Spin party. Vampire Weekend may not be the future of rock ’n’ roll yet, but in another couple of albums, it just might be.

Von Bondies: The Detroit band, looking for a new label deal, delivered a series of powerhouse sets showcasing new material (particularly the hit-worthy “Pale Bride”) and a potent five-piece lineup.

Was (Not Was): Out come the freaks — again. Setting up to release its first new album in 18 years — “Boo!” on April 1 — the Detroit-bred group let rip with a dance-till-you-drop extravaganza played with ferocious virtuosity and an energy that would be the envy of many younger bands at SXSW.

Carolyn Wonderland: She’s no secret in her native Texas, but this gutbucket blues-rocker with 20 albums to her credit is still a find for those outside the Lone Star State. Seeing her live is best, but check out her “Miss Understood” and you’ll surely understand.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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