Yes, it took me over a year to sift through the >1000 tracks from SXSW, but here are my top 25 recommendations. I’ve added a few comments so you know what to expect and so I can feel like some kinda music critic. I’ve done this every year since 2007, though I’ve only posted 2018 to Medium.
As of this writing, you can find the song on the linked pages, though that is of course subject to change. The SXSW site itself seems to perma-host the tracks, so you can always go there if something disappeared.
Adekunle Gold — Ire: Afro-pop has so little to do with US pop. US rock is about authors expressing their authenticity; US pop is unapologetically a manufactured thing. How does afropop, which has clean, opposite-of-rock guitars but which is authentic in every sense of the word fit in?
Alih Jeh & Cuñao — Mi Debilidad: Una llorona, but with more swing.
Artux Surfin Boi (AKIN X VISUDY) — Seaside Motel: They’re a soul band from Xinjiang, China (near Mongolia and the Stans). The track feels like the title.
Bad Sounds — Wages:
Bailen — I was wrong: A pal and I have already taken to singing “I believe that I was wrong, I was wroooong” every time we want to express that sentiment.
BIRTHH — Queen of Failureland: She’s 19 and not even the youngest in the bunch.
Ambar Lucid — A Letter to my Younger Self: I’m putting her out of alphabetical order because she is the youngest in the bunch: she wrote this letter to her younger self when she was 17.
Briston Maroney — Freakin’ out on the Interstate: I get a Heartless Bastards vibe from this one.
Curse of Lono — Valentine: It took two bars for this to hit its driving-but-chill groove and for me to put it on this list.
Ferris & Sylvester — Burning River: Does R.E.M. count as “Oldies” at this point? Anyway, if you don’t know them, they’re a Southern Rock band formed 40 years ago. One of their songs (“Cuyahoga”) is about the burning of the Cuyahoga river, and although I admire the song, I always thought it was because it would be impossible to write a bad song about a burning river. Not a lot of burning rivers these days — thanks, EPA — but Ferris & Sylvester use the image anyway. Maybe in the future all songs will be about burning rivers. Perkier than R.E.M.
ROE — Hey Thomas: It’s hard to write songs with a character or drama; I love it when people get it right.
Kota the Friend — Chicago Diner: Can’t tell if it’s about a Chicago Diner or the Chicago Diner. The Chicago Diner is a vegan diner on the North Side and is highly recommended.
Lovely Fiction — Ivy Sole: The only song I think I’ve ever heard about the question of motherhood. Is 25 too old to have a baby?
Luchia Tacchetti — Todo Cambia: A pop song. Todo lamento.
Mari — Ain’t thinkin bout you (feat. LION BABE): This is the perkier breakup song.
Mojo Juju — Native Tongue: The Internet tells me her father is Filipino, and the southern sun shines over New South Wales, Australia.
MOÜGLI — Pa’ Sentirse: Sorry, English speakers, but the Spanish market is bigger than you, so SXSW, a business conference sponsored by American Express, has a huge chunk about the Spanish market.
Oscar Jerome — Do you really: This track is nothing but flow.
The Philharmonik — Drugs: One could easily picture this song on Sesame Street, or at least Avenue Q.
Ramblin’ Deano (of Waco Bros) — The President is Out of His God Damn Mind: If you are a musician who is not writing protest songs right now, please get on that ASAP. There were only one or two others that touched on protest themes and I just don’t understand.
Shirt Off Fe — Hayu: So many rappers have no ability to laugh at themselves.
WAFIA — I’m good: Even though my personal tastes lean more toward bands like I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, I try to have one straight-up, clean, dancey pop track every year, and here’s this one.
I just couldn’t stop. Other faves:
Adam Ostrar — Kansas City: Another chill groove.
Billy Strings — Turmoil & Tinfoil: Rock and roll-ish but on a banjo.
Duncan Fellows — Fresh Squeezed: it’s like what if Cornershop were from Austin.
Fernanda Takai — Olha Pro Ceu: straight-up Bossa Nova from Belo Horizonte.
Graham Reynolds & Golden Arm Trio — Caravan:
Horns make everything better.
ings — Afterthough: A simple, understated song.
Moira Mack — Sak Kap: Looking up the track now, the vocalist is evidently Wyclef Jean
Nadia Tehran — Cash Flow: MIA influenced Swedish cantautora.
The Nimbus — Prayers: This is the kind of cloud you see just before it rains.
Peter Harper — Twilight time: Clarinets make everything better
Quivers — You’re not on my mind: This year’s catchy breakup song
Schaffer the Darklord — I hate people: There are so many ways!
Single Lash — Come True: I dunno what you’re into there, but this vague pseudoshoegaze is my kinda sound. What I’m saying is, I’m looking for a protest song about a burning river with horns, clarinet, and a shoegaze sheen.
THERE — Swimming Backwards: Another track whose name really evokes its mood
Tyler Ramsey — 1000 black birds: You’ll think it sounds like Fleet Foxes, which means it sounds like 1970s folk.
Waco Bros — John Langford has been working hard for decades, including one rendition of country/punk band The Mekons, and his “Drone Operator” featured in this list a few years back. To put an image in your mind, last time I saw him live was at the dive-ish bar by the freeway in Chicago.
Warmduscher — Standing on the Corner: It’s a funk track with a lot of fuzz.
William Elliot Whitmore — Fear of Trains: A Magnetic Fields cover from my
favorite MF album, the one about highways and vampires.
Wood & Wire — Kingpin: A straight-up barroom country song.