The Top 10 Acts to Watch from SXSW 2010


With over 2,000 bands performing in Austin, Texas, for this year’s SXSW music festival, separating the ones-to-watch from the ones-to-wash was a challenge even if you were there. While we weren’t able to catch every artist in attendance, now that the dust has settled and our brains have become (relatively) unscrambled, we were able to compile the best of the best — in order to give you the top 10 acts from the melee to watch out for in 2010. From quirky UK pop to retro soul to inspired global sounds, we’ve got you covered for the upcoming months. Listen to all of the artists, watch videos, and rock out after the jump.

1. Marina & the Diamonds Buy: American Jewels EP

We’ve been enamored with Marina Diamandis, aka Marina & the Diamonds, ever since we heard her sparkly single “I Am Not a Robot” last year. Her debut album, The Family Jewels

, is due stateside next month, and is an early contender for album of the year. Marina’s SXSW shows were among her first in the US, and proved that she’s as compelling and kooky live as she is on record.

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2. jj Buy: jj no 3

This Swedish duo does a killer, sexy, raspy cover of Lil Wayne, which is all we could ask for, really. That, and we liked them way more than the XX, who jj’s now on tour opening for. Pitchfork and Perez may have already turned their backs on the duo (go figure), but we’ll always trust our ears more than either of them. (Plus, that just kinda makes us like the band more.)

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3. Nneka Buy: Concrete Jungle

Another artist who caught our attention at the tail end of 2009, Nigerian-born, Germany-based rising soul star Nneka crosses continents musically as easily as she does physically. Mixing the emotional transparency of Lauryn Hill with her African influences, Nneka makes music that presents her as both a fresh voice and a positive political force. Catch a show and you’ll feel like you know her personally by the time she leaves the stage.

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4. Free Energy Buy: Stuck on Nothing

It might be cheating to fall in love with this DFA band all the way out in Austin, but damn if these Philly-based boys didn’t make our day. James Murphy may have produced their debut album, but they don’t sound like most DFA bands (they’re guitar-based and lack turntables, for one). Still, the spirit is the same: jubilant. Free Energy’s lead-in single is also called “Free Energy,” which is usually a warning sign, but their live set proved that the guys have plenty of equally great material.

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5. Cocoon Buy: My Friends All Died in a Plane Crash

We actually stumbled upon this ridiculously charming French duo entirely by accident, but it definitely falls in the “happy accident” category. Mark Daumail and Morgane Imbeaud play quietly uplifting, stripped-down folk-pop often reminiscent of mostly acoustic acts like Kings of Convenience. The boy/girl band released its debut album in 2007, but we’re delighted to be discovering it now, just in time for the release of the follow-up later this year.

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6. Timber Timbre Buy: Timber Timber

This Canadian folkie sounds like a Southern Gothic Randy Newman. “Wow, that will never work,” you may think — but then you see Taylor Kirk leading his bare-bones group and realize, “Man, Randy Newman totally should have done some swampy, bluesy stuff.” And now you understand Timber Timbre.

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7. Warpaint Buy: Exquisite Corpse

Blissed-out LA psych rockers Warpaint were all over the place at CMJ in the fall, and even more all over the place at SXSW. (We mean physically, of course; musically, they’re tight as hell.) It would have been hard to miss the witchy quartet even if you tried, and that’s for good reason: the girls have made music to slip into a coma to as enticing as it’s been since the days of the Velvet Underground and Nico.

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8. Fitz & the Tantrums Buy: Songs For A Break Up, Vol.1

This retro West-coast band brought the best of Northern Soul and Motown hooks to Texas, where frontman Fitz totally made people forget not only where we were, but what decade we were in. (We found out later that the band opened for Maroon 5 last year, but Fitz and friends are so endearing, we’re willing to overlook it.) With the best croon-and-horn combo since Mark Ronson met Amy Winehouse, this is heartbreak music to feel good about.

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9. Choir of Young Believers Buy: This Is for the White in Your Eyes

Choir of Young Believers make music that sounds as big as their name, but often pull it off live as a piano and cello duo. With nods to the soaring, majestic pop of acts like Sigur Rós and the Flaming Lips, Denmark’s Jannis Noya Makrigiannis and his crew of varying size will count you among its believers in very little time. The band is also another notch on the belt of label Ghostly International, showing a continuing knack for snagging lush indie-pop bands following its foray into the arena with School of Seven Bells.

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10. PowerSolo Buy: Bloodskinbones

Sometimes it’s two o’clock in the morning and your eardrums need a pick-me-up. Or a sucker punch. Check out PowerSolo, a Danish rockabilly punk duo that sounds kind of like Green Day might if they didn’t get old and start writing Broadway musicals. Also, like all good punk rockers, the boys aren’t afraid to get naked for the sake of an album cover.

Additional reporting by Leah Taylor.