By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Yes indeed, South by Southwest is upon us once again, my friends, and for those NYC denizens not making the trip this year due to the ongoing economic collapse, etc., fear not, because, as usual, most of the Austin extravaganza's star attractions will wander up here eventually, and many of SXSW 2009's most intriguing offerings live here to begin with. For those still heading down (enjoy that Dallas airport layover, BTW), please consider this assortment of homegrown talent who'll be joining you, and seek 'em out should you get homesick or just tired of waiting in the fuckin' four-hour line to see Morrissey.
George W. Bush commuted this guy's sentence and got him out of jail. Months later, this news is still a) awesome and b) incredibly hard to believe, given our beloved ex-president's generally frosty rapport with the Hip-Hop Nation. (It pays, evidently, to befriend Carly Simon.) Busted in 2000 at Newark Airport with $1.4 million in liquid cocaine, Mr. Forté, a rapper/producer/multi-instrumentalist best known for his work with the Fugees, served seven years of a 14-year sentence (a typically onerous mandatory-minimum deal) before W. sprung him; shortly thereafter, there he is blogging for the Daily Beast and rapping over Kanye West's "Homecoming" beat with Talib Kweli. Doesn't get much more surreal than that. No idea what Forté's SXSW appearance holds in store, but he's got two well-regarded solo albums under his belt already, and I'm pretty sure enough life-experience material to whip up a third.
At least half of this band's name is accurate. Described as "lethally charming" in these very pages a few years back, this Brooklyn crew has yet to actually kill anyone with their quirky, exuberant, profoundly catchy indie pop ("Unhurried Hearts," off their excellent and imminent new Technicolor Health, is the jam), which mercifully avoids Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist levels of cute/cloying behavior. This sounds like real music made by real people for real people, in other words; led by frontman (and very occasional Voice contributor) Lexy Benaim, the Shakes chant a chorus of "This will be a better year" in unison and actually make you believe it, ongoing economic collapse (etc.) notwithstanding. Great album cover, too, and you're Goddamn right that still counts for something.
As in Angel Deradoorian, she of beloved Brooklyn avant-rockers the Dirty Projectors (who'll be at SXSW, too, actually), now indulging in a bit of solo action via the Mind Raft EP, self-described as "five gothed-out psych tracks for you to do drugs to, or something." Her voice is funereal, arresting, and not a little disturbing, with an ethereally baroque sensibility to match. ("Gothed-out" works just fine, actually.) This is not exactly music to eat brisket to, no. Hopefully she's performing in a church—or a graveyard.
Alabaman-turned-Brooklynite Matthew Houck's new record under the Phosphorescent banner, To Willie, is a lovely, profoundly devout tribute to one Willie Nelson; no offense to us, but I imagine Austinites take the Red-Haired Stranger slightly more seriously than we do. Matt is liable to be either deified or roughed up a bit when he takes these beloved tunes to the bars of East 6th Street; dollars to doughnuts, it's the former.
Easy Star All-Stars
So. Here we have a reggae crew with two prior albums to their name: The Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread. See if you can guess their m.o. If you're still a bit uncertain, take a gander at their third offering: Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band. If the words "When I'm Sixty-Four (Extended Dub Mix)" freak you out/crack you up/intrigue you a bit, here's your oasis of surreality in a vast desert of indie-rockin' blandness. I'm listening to Luciano sing "With a Little Help From My Friends" right now, and I don't even know what day it is anymore.
Most likely, you're just exchanging one fuckin' four-hour line for another here, but these guys are quite possibly this year's Star Attraction, a stunning, angelic chamber-pop foursome with surprising heft (drummer Christopher Bear is a monster), whose imminent new album, Veckatimest, has triggered enough Internet-leak-chasing psychosis to make everyone forget Animal Collective ever existed, for which we are grateful. Request their cover of "He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)," and then hold onto something.
For info, schedules, and so forth, go to SXSW.com