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This week, more than 2,000 bands will perform live as part of the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas — and each will hope to stand out somehow. It's one thing to play SXSW, but another to generate excitement.
For the NPR Music team, attending SXSW means sifting and winnowing through hundreds upon hundreds of songs for weeks in advance, in an effort to better anticipate the festival's highlights. Each year, writer and editor Stephen Thompson assembles a mix called The Austin 100 — a 100-song playlist highlighting new discoveries from SXSW — and in 2012 that meant listening to more than 1,300 songs.
In an interview for weekends on All Things Considered, NPR's Guy Raz asked Thompson to distill that 1,300-song bundle down to just four discoveries — songs by artists he'd never heard before the process began.
* Now, Now, "Dead Oaks" (from Threads)
A young trio from Minneapolis, Now, Now is led by two women (Cacie Dalager and Jess Abbott) with a remarkably sophisticated ear for irresistibly infectious pop-rock.
* Kishi Bashi, "Bright Whites" (from 151a)
A Kickstarter-funded solo project for a performer named K Ishibashi (a touring member of the band Of Montreal), Kishi Bashi plays homemade toy-box pop with Beatles-esque harmonies and a sense of grandeur.
* Chic Gamine, "Closer" (from City City)
A throwback to girl-group soul with a touch of Francophile pop, Chic Gamine features four Canadian women who take turns singing lead vocals. A Juno winner in its home country, the band sounds poised for a U.S. breakout.
* Silverbus, "Those Forgotten" (from Orange)
SXSW always offers a chance to indulge in something head-clearingly loud and grand, and the Taiwanese band Silverbus fits that bill. (See also: Deafheaven, The Calm Blue Sea.) With big guitars that get bigger as the songs progress, it's instrumental music that makes listeners want to shout along.
Visit npr.org/sxsw for NPR Music's full coverage of SXSW, including live broadcasts, videos, photos, podcasts and more from the festival.