Tomorrow (March 11), thousands of bands, journalists and music fans descend onto Austin, Texas for the annual SXSW Music Conference. Like always, there will be tons of parties, lines, food, and too many decisions to make about which acts to catch. Here are Billboard’s 10 best bets for the week — acts that have a strong buzz going and could have a breakout year after the madness ends.
Real Estate are quickly becoming the preferred purveyors of sunny jangle-pop in the indie-rock world. Their new album, “Atlas” (Domino) was recorded at Wilco’s Chicago studio The Loft and finds the band continuing down the path of well-crafted songs that evoke a romantic, yet nostalgic vibe that’s always warm and inviting. As simple, refined pop song writers, it’s hard to beat these guys right now.
Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings have gained a steady following over the last few years with a raucous live show and a never-ending supply of post-punk songs. Their fourth album, “Here and Nowhere Else” (Mom + Pop/Carpark) is due out on April 1 and frontman Dylan Baldi has promised that the music within the eight songs is “more positive” this time around.
Chance the Rapper
This time last year, Chicago hip-hop artist Chance the Rapper was relatively unknown on the national scene, as he was prepping his throwback, breakout mixtape ‘Acid Rap.’ 12 months later, he’s recorded with Justin Bieber, James Blake and Lil Wayne to name just a few.
Hurray for the Riff Raff
Most music that comes out of New Orleans tends to lean towards the Crescent City’s funk roots, but Hurray for the Riff Raff hone in on the south’s gothic-folk traditions that would sound at home in any club on Music Row. Centered around Alynda Lee Segarra’s charming, southern voice, the band’s new album “Small Town Heroes” (ATO) is an excellent take on classic country traditions.
Dum Dum Girls
The promise of the Dum Dum Girls has existed for years, but the L.A. band’s new album, “Too True” (Sub Pop) is a strong leap forward. It combines the group’s love of fuzzed-out distorted guitars and vintage ’80s goth the Cure and Siouxsie Sioux, as lead Dum Dum Girl Dee Dee Penny blurs the line between tortured artist and confident rock-star.
RAC used to stand for “Remix Artist Collective” where it was just that — a few DJs that did fancy mash-ups. Nowadays, it’s just the solo project of original RAC member André Allen Anjos, a master-mixer from Portland, Oregon. He’s releasing his debut album “Stranger” (Cherrytree/Interscope) in two parts this spring, with guest spots from Tegan and Sara, Penguin Prison and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ Alex Ebert. It’s EDM-tinged pop ready to break into the Top 40.
Charli XCX broke out in 2013, but not with her album ‘True Romance.’ Instead, she saw a song she wrote, “I Love It,” top the charts for Icona Pop. She’s currently at work on her third album, which she describes as “very punk inspired.” For dance artists these days, that could mean anything. She recently lit up the internet with Iggy Azalea in a video they did for Azalea’s new single “Fancy,” in which they brilliantly reenacted the 1995 Alicia Silverstone film “Clueless.” For those in search of the next Ellie Goulding, Charli’s poised to rise up.
On Eagulls’ self-titled debut (Partisan), the Leeds, UK five-piece blend a sound that evokes the Pixies’ melodic brand of punk rock and the Horrors gloomy vocals. The band is just two years old, but write music that’s emotionally charged with powerful guitars and a rather brash attitude. Punk purists can take solace in the fact that their clip for “Nerve Endings,” which won the NME award for “Best Music Video,” featured a rotting pig brain.
Ty Dolla $ign
Wiz Khalifa protégé Ty Dolla $ign has hustled well-received singles and mixtapes out for the last several years and is currently prepping his debut album “Free TC” (Taylor Gang Records/Atlantic), due out later this year. But fans got a taste of Ty in January, when he released “Beach House EP,” a 7-song official introduction that features a slew of top-notch guests including B.o.B., French Montana, DJ Mustard, Trey Songz, and of course, Wiz. Right now, he’s angling to be rap’s next big thing.
Timber Timbre is the musical project of Canadian musician Taylor Kirk and on his sultry new album, “Hot Dreams” (Arts & Crafts), he expands on the dark humor and sparse rock arrangements that lined his previous four albums. It sounds like Nick Cave soundtracking a romantic date night, but not in a creepy way. In the past, the band has supported Feist and Laura Marling and their music has been featured in ‘Breaking Bad.’ It’s only a matter of time before the cool kids latch on.