Heavy Rotation: 10 SXSW Discoveries Public Radio Can’t Stop Playing

By NPR Staff  |  NPR – Morning Edition

Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta.
Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta. Ebru Yildiz, Ebru Yildiz for NPR.


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Heavy Rotation is a monthly sampler of public radio hosts’ favorite songs. Check out past editions here.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


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Future Islands, 'Seasons (Waiting On You)'

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Future Islands, 'Seasons (Waiting On You)'

It's never easy going into SXSW with a buzz like the one Future Islands had from a recent Letterman performance. At Haven on Wednesday night, after a few technical problems that seem to pop up during the first song of almost every SXSW show, the band delivered. The first time Samuel Herring lowered his voice and sang like a possessed Muppet, Future Islands became one of my favorites from the festival. —Mark Abuzzahab, KXT

• Download "Seasons (Waiting On You)" (Right-Click and Save Link As)

Sergio Mendoza Y La Orkesta, 'Mambo Mexicano'

Sergio Mendoza says his grandfather was playing in a Mexican military band at the age of 7 in Sonora. That's how far Mendoza's musical roots go back, and his performances at SXSW this year reflect those roots with a vision that would have made his grandfather proud. Mendoza says he's fascinated by 1950s-era big-band mambo bandleader Perez Prado; he faithfully reinterprets Prado's style, but when he adds a surf guitar, the sound becomes fresh and new. It grooves like a runaway train. —Felix Contreras, Alt.Latino

• Download "Mambo Mexicano" (Right-Click and Save Link As)

Spray Paint, 'Drive By Feeling'

Bands from all over the world play SXSW, but this year, it was a homegrown Austin act that left the biggest impression on me. Inside the dark Beerland last week, Spray Paint sounded like Sonic Youth minus the studio production as Cory Plump and George Dishner's atonal guitars shredded and buzzed over Chris Stephenson's rubbery beats. But the band was just as content to gleefully shout over post-punk- and surf-rock-indebted sounds before distorting it all into a metallic, noisy mess. I couldn't have been the only new fan converted right away. —Valerie Paschall, WAMU's Bandwidth

• Download "Drive By Feeling" (Right-Click and Save Link As)

PHOX, 'Espeon'

I was happy to finally get to see PHOX at our World Cafe showcase at SXSW. Not only does this septet have abundant energy and a batch of strong songs, but it's also got Monica Martin, as charismatic a lead singer as I've seen in a while. The band lives, writes and arranges together in a small town outside Madison, Wisc. But whatever the band writes, Martin puts the lyrics to and sings, and that's what takes PHOX out of the ordinary. The group turned heads at SXSW, just signed to a label with an album coming in June, and is already booked at the Newport Folk Festival this summer. —David Dye, World Cafe

• Download "Espeon" (Right-Click and Save As)

Ex Hex, 'Hot And Cold'

In the brief time she spent with Wild Flag, Mary Timony learned one of rock's great truisms: The quickest path to the heart is the most direct. The ex-Helium frontwoman strips down her sound in her new project, Ex Hex, formed with drummer Laura Harris and bassist Betsy Wright, and gets right to it with batch of punchy power-pop songs. Though it's only just released its first 7", the D.C. trio has filled a touring set list of as-yet-unrecorded, high-energy rockers that draw from classics of the '70s and '80s. Onstage, Harris pounds away while Timony and Wright thrash about like they've never had so much fun in their lives. Judging from the hoots and fist-pumps by the audience during the SXSW performance I witnessed, I could tell that those around me felt exactly the same way. —Jim Beckmann, KEXP

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Ages And Ages, 'Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)'

Ages and Ages calls itself "a collective of like-minded souls [who] believe in the power of music to change the world and elevate the spirit." The group's uplifting music, with lyrics by bandleader Tim Perry and a trademark choral sound, delivers serious messages accompanied by hand-claps, shakers and noisemakers. The Portland band is just releasing its second album, Divisionary, and "Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)" is pretty much stuck in a loop in the heads of everyone who's ever heard it, with the biggest hook set atop layers of harmonies and percussion. —Rita Houston, WFUV

• Download "Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)" (Right-Click and Save As)

Bear Hands, 'Bone Digger'

I'd just about given up on the accidental-discovery portion of SXSW — it's hard to stumble upon someone when that stumble requires waiting in line for three blocks to see if your badge and the RSVP list are going to align. Still, it happened as I walked past the IFC Fairgrounds on Friday night in search of Albert Hammond Jr. via Wanda Jackson. What I first thought was Foster the People — which I then doubted, because there was a little more C.P.E. Bach in the bass math — turned out to be Bear Hands from Brooklyn. These guys are turning their film studies into serious, intricate pop fun. Even the people checking my backpack couldn't stop dancing. —Mike Flanagan, Colorado Public Radio's OpenAir

• Download "Bone Digger" (Right-Click and Save As)

The Strypes, 'Blue Collar Jane'

The young Irish band calling itself The Strypes channeled the spirit of classic British rock and American blues at its SXSW appearances. Blending familiar sounds from The Yardbirds to The Kinks, the band is reviving classic rock 'n' roll for music fans ready to steer away from pop- and synth-based indie rock. —David Safar, The Current

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Reese, 'Mobbin'

Rap shows can be assaultive; sometimes that's exactly what you need. But sometimes you need a break. On a roof in the middle of an office building in Austin, I found that. The Ballers Eve showcase had impeccable sound. Everybody's vocal was clear, nothing was distorted, the audience was cliqued up and calm, and I'd just had the best funnel cake of my life. Reese was onstage, lounging in the pocket, moving like he does this every day over tracks that sound narcotized and dainty at the same time. Right then, and even after I left Texas, it hit the spot. —Frannie Kelley, Microphone Check

• Download "Mobbin" (Right-Click and Save As)

Oil Boom, '45 Revolutions Per Minute'

One of the best things about roaming the streets of Austin late at night during SXSW is running into a unexpected club and seeing a band that turns it all upside down. For me, that was the Dallas-area trio Oil Boom. If you like the grittiness of The Black Keys, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hanni El Khatib and good, loud garage-rock guitar in general, Oil Boom is for you. Its members claim influences from Nirvana to Dinosaur Jr., and are busy putting together the funds to record their next album. Until then, check out "45 Revolutions Per Minute," the A side of a new 7". —Anne Litt, KCRW

• Download "45 Revolutions Per Minute" (Right-Click and Save As)