SXSW Spreadsheet 80 - ending the week with a really interesting set. 6 big hitters! Highlights:
Okkervil River – a folk rock band from Austin with a gritty, powerful delivery. Okkervil River is one of the more well known acts booked at SXSW this year. Their output has been prolific; they are currently in the 12th year of existence, and just finished up their 6th LP, I Am Very Far. Their career and a little of their sound mirrors The Decemberists, especially how they are willing to delve into concepts, either song cycles or full albums, to build a deeper sense of drama to their music. There’s a great deal of pop in their music as well, incorporating an upbeat vibe similar to The New Pornographers in many ways. Frontman Will Sheff goes between baritone tones and an indie rock infused middle range with a really mature vibe. Okkervil River is also closely associated with other bands, notably Shearwater which started as an Okkervil River side project and a collaboration with Roky Erickson on last year’s True Love Cast Out All Evil.
Ólöf Arnalds – an indie pop singer from Iceland also known for her work with Mum. Ólöf Arnalds has been a fixture of the Icelandic music scene for years, but she really broke out in 2010 with the release of her gorgeous sophomore solo album Innundir Skinni. Her work falls right in line with Mum, but presents a softer acoustic angle to Icelandic pop music. Her vocal melodies may be commonplace on Iceland (seriously – how do they have so many talented singers?), but to my ears they are borderline angelic, emphasizing unexpected syllables with such an incredible tone. Much like Bjork or Jonsi, there’s a great emotional resonance in the interlocking melodies between the vocals and the music. In addition to acoustic guitar, Ólöf’s instrumental specialty is the violin, which she incorporates nicely into her music. She’s a really exciting act and I’m sure is going to wow some people at showcases this year.
Old 97’s – a veteran alt country band from Dallas, Texas with great songwriting. The Old 97’s are another well known act; they’ve been performing and releasing records since 1993. Lead singer Rhett Miller has also maintained a successful solo career throughout. At its heart, the Old 97’s are a country band, but their pioneering sound has led them to be a forefather, along with Whiskeytown and Uncle Tupelo, in the alt country movement of the last decade. They are underground heroes based on the strength of their music, emotion-filled verses combined with jangly rock guitars and driving percussion. The Old 97’s are the best bar band you’ll ever see, and even this far into their career they keep getting better. Last year’s LP, The Grande Theatre, is the first part of a two volume project, and is their most inventive and coherent record of their career. Their longevity is a their biggest asset rather than a hurdle, and are a guaranteed great set at SXSW.
Oh Ruin – a gritty and minimal folk rock band from Meath, Ireland. Oh Ruin is the moniker of Eoin O’Ruainigh, an Irish balladeer armed just with an acoustic guitar and a microphone. With the party vibe of SXSW, he’s an artist that may get drowned out in a bar, but I could see him being a real highlight in a quiet setting. Oh Ruin has a really strong voice, gravelly yet majestic at parts with a bluesy tone. It’s quietly commanding; Oh Ruin really takes his time to coddle each note that’s completely engrossing. He doesn’t have much music released, just an EP and single last year, but he’s a great potential artist to catch on the upswing.
OK Sweetheart – a folk rock band led by a female singer-songwriter with a 60’s vibe from Tulsa, Oklahoma. OK Sweetheart rides on the same train as She & Him, creating an old school vibe but with an updated energy and delivery. They like to slow it down a lot as well, moving into ballad territory that is emotionally resonant but still with a pop vibe. OK Sweetheart has built up a strong fan base that extends to the North Texas area, slowly building buzz around her smoky and cool vibe. They currently only have one single out, but there’s plenty of live video to browse on the web to check out OK Sweetheart.
Olin & The Moon – an alt country band from Los Angeles with a raw but powerful sound. They have a relaxed feel in most of their songs, with traditional country instrumentation including a smooth slide guitar. Their music isn’t particularly experimental or groundbreaking, they’re just a good sounding band. The band has a folk influence as well, incorporating acoustic instrumentation on a couple tracks. They are sort of like Deer Tick but with more of a pop sound. Olin & The Moon will be touring SXSW in support of their 4th album, Footsteps, released a few weeks ago.
Omar Rodriguez Lopez Group - prog influenced experimental rock from the Mars Volta member based out of Mexico City.