AUSTIN, TEX. — A few days ago, we shared our picks for the best finds at first half of SXSW. As the festival wrapped, one common conversation at venues was the notion that SXSW had returned to its roots after a peak trendiness five years ago that saw Lady Gaga, Kanye West, JAY-Z, Justin Timberlake, Depeche Mode and Prince all play the festival.
While this year still featured surprise superstars like Khalid, J Balvin and next big thing Billie Eilish, the other 98 percent of the festival was fully immersed in discovery mode. A great thing about SXSW is the crowds packing clubs to see bands they’ve never even heard. We witnessed massive excitement for bands as varied as Fontaines D.C., Sir Babygirl and Chai. After four days of wall-to-wall music, here’s part two of our favorites, with a few (very) honorable mentions for good measure.
Thyla – We hadn’t heard anything about Thyla when we saw them – they were simply on a bill that looked good overall. Thanks to Stereogum, then, for finding this delightful and youthful blast of shoegaze and shimmering pop that’s built for fans of 4AD bands and classic British alternative bands. The group seemed delighted to be in Texas for the festival, and responded with a loud, sometimes theatrical set that recalled everything from The Pixies to Ride over the course of a half hour. With influences like these, what’s not to love?
Sidney Gish – Sidney Gish is still finishing college, but in her free time, she’s recorded several albums, scored raves from Pitchfork, and opened for Mitski’s summer 2018 tour. Gish’s lo-fi sound (onstage, she starts a loop with a pedal and plays an electric guitar) showcases self-deprecating and casual lyrics that are honest and lived-in. The listener gets the impression that Gish is being honest – it’s like a conversation over a drink, but in a three-minute indie-pop jam.
Cautious Clay – Our notes from a cramped club so tight it was tough to type: “Great voice and presence. Vocals sound just a touch like ’90s pop star Seal. Songs are fully formed. Could be an arena act soon.” Cautious Clay has songs on HBO shows and carries an NPR stamp of approval, so he’s hardly unknown, but he’s about to be. His single “Cold War” is so appealing one can see fans of Khalid, The XX and Massive Attack all finding it right in their lane.
Josin – Josin’s set at the SXSW Germany showcase was hypnotic. Armed only with her voice, a MacBook, and a Korg synthesizer, she silenced the noisy mezcal bar to the point where a number of audience members sat down on the concrete floor. Josin’s voice has a haunting quality – and her music a certain skittish beauty – that fans of Bjork and Kate Bush should seek her out. It’s beautiful and moody.
Charly Bliss – Sometimes after catching multiple “works in progress” at SXSW, you find a band of sharp professionals. Charly Bliss makes crunchy, taut power-pop that reminded us in equal measure of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” and Veruca Salt’s “Seether.” This is a band with onstage charm, fast and fun tunes, and a lot of “loud/quiet/loud” 90s rock radio power. We’d happily pay to listen to a full set – they’re worth a longer listen.
Honorable mentions for 2019:
Jess Williamson – Sparse and promising mid-tempo rock noir with echoes of Neko Case.
Penelope Isles – Shoegaze brother and sister duo prone to intense jams.
Omar Apollo – Smooth as silk new soul that drew such excitement we could barely see the artist.
Joshua Burnside – Intense and complex Irish folk-rock with a modern and intriguing point of view.
Follow writer Tom Thornton at Twitter.com/tomthorntontx.