Last week marked Austin's twelfth annual South by Southwest music conference. Some 3000 music-biz types listened to some 850 bands from around the world play at 35 clubs over five nights. In other words, most of the music we'll be listening to over the next year was previewed last week. Of the major, indie, unsigned, and unspeakable acts presented, the following stand out as the most noteworthy.
*Best Show: Cornelius, the Japanese sound-collage artist named after a Planet of the Apes character. On his American debut, Fantasma, Cornelius sounds like a studio nerd, but in concert he and his three-piece band (all wearing matching red-and-white striped shirts) played high-decibel power-pop with the ferocity of the Ramones and the melodic sophistication of Burt Bacharach.
*Worst Show: A3, the British country-funk band on Geffen Records. Dressed up like cowboys and old-time preachers, singing in fake Southern drawls, and playing cartoonish dance music, A3 failed to impress most Austinites.
*Most Promising: Sean Lennon, son of the famous John. Backed by Yuka Honda and Miho Hatori of the Japanese band Cibo Matto, Lennon played a wobbly but intriguing set of melodic pop compositions. With his bleached-blond hair and horn-rimmed glasses, Sean will likely have more success with the hipsters than his older sibling, Julian, did. Sean releases his debut, Into the Sun, in May.
*Most Charming: Imani Coppola, who beguiled a crowd of a thousand cynical indie-rockers with her upbeat hip-hop and accessible pop songs. Her rapping is about as rhythmic as Will Smith's, but her mid-range voice and kooky lyrics ("I am a tree!") are quite fetching. Wearing a lime-green satin blouse outfitted with nylon butterfly wings, Coppola qualifies as the Cyndi Lauper of hip-hop.
*Most Overrated: DJ Josh Wink, who generated a big buzz at last year's SXSW conference. Despite the laser light show and the hundreds of Ecstasy-addled dance-kids, Wink looked and sounded suspiciously like a guy playing other peoples' records.
*Next Big Thing: Propellerheads, an electronica duo from Bath, England. Their 2 a.m. set on Friday night proved that live electronica is not necessarily a contradiction in terms. Will White actually played drums (and laid down some funky human beat-box noises), while Alex Gifford actually played a bass guitar and a Hammond organ (quite well, too). Never mind that their instruments were barely audible over the prerecorded tracks: At least there was some activity on stage. The band's long-in-coming debut, Decksandrumsandrockandroll, might be worth the wait.
*Biggest Surprise: Junkie XL, an Amsterdam techno-rap-rock band that blew the roof off a tiny club at 1 a.m. on Thursday. Junkie XL made so much noise that people gathered outside the club and pressed their faces against the vibrating windows. "Sorry folks," said the doorman as he barred even press members from the overcapacity club. "They just rock too hard."
*A for Effort: The Austin performer Sxip. Wearing a tasteful knit skirt and playing simultaneously a harmonica, Walkman, and foot-drum, Mr. Sxip baffled a crowd of about thirteen on Wednesday evening. Hey, we can't all be rock stars.
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