Stephen Thompson

The Austin 100

Mar 1, 2018

In the middle of every March, the SXSW Music Festival fills Austin, Texas, with thousands of musicians from around the world. It's a marathon so daunting — it's a marathon and a sprint, really — that even longtime SXSW veterans need a hand winnowing the festival's countless discoveries down to digestible doses.

That's where The Austin 100 comes in. Handpicked from thousands of bands playing at this year's festival, these 100 songs highlight the best SXSW 2018 has to offer — songs from around the world, across a broad spectrum of genres, sounds and styles.

Hometown: Henderson, Nevada

Genre: Bedroom Pop

Why We're Excited: Nick Rattigan sings and plays drums in the surf-rock band Surf Curse, but he's been doing more and more with the solo bedroom pop songs he writes under the name Current Joys. Propelled by sinewy guitar lines and sweeping synths, songs like "Fear" — from a new, self-directed "visual album" titled A Different Age — reflect on the underbelly of modern life without resorting to self-pity.

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Hometown: London, England

Genre: Rock / Pop

Why We're Excited: Nilüfer Yanya got her start as an R&B singer, but she's more recently morphed into a sparer and more pop-minded sound. Her breakthrough single, "Baby Luv," pairs her smoky voice with a hook that isn't repetitious so much as hypnotically alluring.

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Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Genre: Metal / Stoner Rock

Why We're Excited: Named for a Hawaii 5-0 villain, Wo Fat cuts its thick, doomy metal with bluesy psychedelia and an agreeable Southern-rock chug that makes lines like "We are the riffborn!" ring out like mantras for a life of heavy-metal triumph.

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Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Genre: Americana

Why We're Excited: Collapsing Stars' languid folk songs are punctuated by forceful stabs of bluesy guitar — and, in the case of "The Storm," a few appropriate nature sounds. The effect can be whispery and beautiful, but the band's music maintains a welcome undercurrent of reflection, doubt and even dread.

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Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Vundabar's spiky, caustic, fundamentally good-natured rock and roll bears the weight of grim experience: Singer Brandon Hagen wrote the band's third album, Smell Smoke, while tending to a gravely ill loved one. But songs like "Acetone" — whose sound recalls a less rigidly streamlined Strokes — are too vibrant and highly caffeinated to bum anyone out.

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Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Americana

Why We're Excited: Buck Meek is best known as the lead guitarist and cofounder of Big Thief, but he's also got a nice, low-key side gig going as a solo artist. On his own, he rambles and twangs through conversational, countrified, vividly detailed stories of wanderers, lost souls and dreamers.

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Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Katie Von Schleicher runs her self-effacing bummer anthems through a filter of bright-eyed, '70s-style pop-rock. On albums like Bleaksploitation and last year's S***** Hits, Von Schleicher showcases a richly realized artistic persona: Her fuzzed-out songs look inward with a lacerating eye, while still deflecting enough blame to go around.

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Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Australian singer-songwriter Jess Ribeiro got her start playing country music, but on 2015's Kill It Yourself, she steered toward a sparer, more haunting sound. On that album's tremendous title track, Ribeiro crafts a solemn bit of timeless country-noir that would have been perfectly suited to those Bang Bang Bar spots on the latest iteration of Twin Peaks.

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Hometown: Franklin County, Virginia

Genre: Americana

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: Nassau's songs drift along with moody grace, propelled by clean, fluid guitar lines and an overarching vibe of calm contentment. But listen closely to "Whatever Brings You Peace of Mind," and you'll hear a note of melancholy and unrequited want — a bittersweet mix that haunts as it soothes. Fans of Noah and the Whale's The First Days of Spring, take note.

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Hometown: Gdańsk, Poland

Genre: Psychedelic Rock

Why We're Excited: Trupa Trupa frontman Grzegorz Kwiatkowski is a published poet, but in "To Me," he limits his lyrical output to precisely three words: "Away / To me." That leaves Trupa Trupa to pound out a hefty blast of warped and churning psych-rock thunder that culminates in a full-band freakout of hair-raising proportions.

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Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

Genre: Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar

Hometown: Newtown, Connecticut

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: Writing and playing strange, twisty, lo-fi rock under the name Stove, Ovlov's Steve Hartlett has spent the past few years churning out a loose assortment of shambling bedroom recordings. Like Sebadoh before it, Stove has a gift for letting disarming beauty slip through the tape hiss; for proof, try "dumb phone," a scuffed-up, sweetly strummed gem highlighted by lovely vocal harmonies.

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Hometown: Silsbee, Texas

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: In Lomelda, singer-songwriter Hannah Read reflects on isolation and distance, but there's nothing remote about her music. If anything, she seems compelled to pull listeners ever closer; to share sung secrets amid some of the most intoxicating liquid guitar lines you'll hear this year.

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Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Genre: Americana

Why We're Excited: At first, Dead Horses' songs can sound like simple back-porch roots music. But Sarah Vos and Daniel Wolff dig deeper than that, enriching their material with evocative, empathetic storytelling. Inspired in part by a difficult childhood — Vos grew up in a strict religious household, only to see her family expelled from its church when she was a teenager — Dead Horses' songs find her searching for meaning and connection.

Hometown: Montreal, Canada

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

Genre: Americana

Why We're Excited: Lilly Hiatt writes about thorny aftermaths and cascading consequences, but her work is conceived and played with a full and generous heart. For every note of recrimination, there's a double-edged but ultimately kind appreciation like "Records," in which the singer lays bare her dependence on the music that's helped keep her sane and alive.

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Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Genre: Metal

Why We're Excited: Nate Garrett launched Spirit Adrift as a doom-metal solo project during some major transitions in his life, including sobriety and a cross-country move. Now that he's surrounded himself with a full band, Garrett spends his second album (Curse of Conception) drawing some of his inspiration — not to mention raw, thundering power — from more traditional metal bands like Metallica and Judas Priest.

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Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Genre: Folk Rock

Why We're Excited: Sometimes, the phrase "singer-songwriter" can't begin to capture how many different things a vocalist can do with a guitar in her hands. Haley Heynderickx's voice can embody nervy intensity, caustic strangeness or cooing beauty, while her songs never seem to take the same journey twice. In just three minutes, "Oom Sha La La" keeps popping down surprising side roads.

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Hometown: Canowindra, Australia

Genre: Singer-Songwriter

Why We're Excited: Simultaneously warm and cool, singer-songwriter Gordi (a.k.a. Sophie Payten) shares some creative DNA with Bon Iver: She's toured with the band, she records for its label, and she helped make a name for herself by releasing a hauntingly cavernous cover of "00000 Million." In "Heaven I Know," she swathes her voice in Imogen Heap-style effects, but her debut album (2017's Reservoir) also showcases a joyful side.

Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Genre: Roots Rock

Why We're Excited: Field Report's Christopher Porterfield got his start playing alongside Bon Iver's Justin Vernon all the way back in their DeYarmond Edison days, and now his Field Report project is getting its due after several strong albums. Summertime Songs slickens Porterfield's sound without sacrificing warmth or depth, as evidenced by the hooky, handclappy anthem "Never Look Back."

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Hometown: Seattle, Washington

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Thunderpussy's chugging, blustery, feel-good stomp would really liven up the playlist at your old classic-rock station — that is, if its music had been made many years ago, by a band that wasn't called "Thunderpussy." As it is, it's an enormously appealing, sweat-flinging throwback that still finds a way to sound fresh.

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Hometown: New York, New York

Genre: Rock

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Haley Heynderickx's songs have a way of sneaking up on you: They start out spare, animated by a lone voice or a subtly snaky guitar line, only to billow out into something strange, beautiful, bracingly intense or some combination thereof.

When The Decemberists release I'll Be Your Girl on March 16, it'll be the band's eighth album — part of a 17-year career that's taken listeners through everything from wry folk to ambitious rock opera. If I'll Be Your Girl's first single is any indication, Colin Meloy and his band have used their new record as an opportunity to try new things and hit a few reset buttons along the way.

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