SXSW Music: Must-See Pop

Power-pop, French pop, mellow pop, electro pop – so many pops to choose from!



Wed. 15, the Gatsby, 8:30pm
Paris-based Jain could've been another sensitive singer-songwriter. Instead, she started playing around with drum loops. 2015 debut Zanaka drew from rhythms she absorbed while growing up in the Congo and United Arab Emirates. "Makeba" honors Miriam Makeba with an irresistible fusion of Afro-pop and roller boogie.

Slow Steve

Wed. 15, Speakeasy Kabaret, 11pm
French expat and Fenster vet Rémi Letournelle leads his Berlin-based project on a breezy analog synth journey through sci-fi dreams populated by sloths and giant spider crabs. Mellow pop melodics on 2016's Adventures ring vivid but opaque.

Sleigh Bells

Wed. 15, Banger's, 12mid
Veteran hardcore multi-instrumentalist meets teen pop alumnae and the rest is history. With all the subtlety of a Fox News stinger, this Brooklyn duo's distorted take on electro-pop musses up high-end cacophony with hypercaffeinated allusions to a cleanup hitter's at-bat music. Their latest, Jessica Rabbit, smooths the gnarled edges somewhat.

The New Pornographers

Wed. 15, Stubb's, 12:20am
Venerable Vancouver power-pop juggernaut unveils its synth-heavy seventh LP, Whiteout Conditions, on the band-owned Collected Works label next month. Head Pornographer A.C. Newman likens the new disc to a Krautrockers 5th Dimension. That brilliantly ridiculous notion shimmers through on "High Ticket Attractions" even without the obtuse Jimmy Webb imagery.


Wed. 15, Hotel Vegas, 1am
This boot-stomping bubble-glam quartet out of Chicago plies action-packed hard rock streaked with dishwater strains of power-pop. It's as if the Sweet were reborn as 21st century Midwesterners. 2016's Eye in the Sky EP brims with hooks, but the guitar solos and lurid subject matter snag the no-goodnik older brother demographic.

Gabriella Cohen

Thu. 16, Central Presbyterian Church, 9pm
Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Cohen cut her teeth fronting Brisbane-based garage combo the Furrs before recording 2016's Full Closure and No Details. Her auspicious debut chronicles the end of a relationship with fuzz, grit, and slurred speech. Imagine Nancy Sinatra cutting sides with the Seeds after a Laurel Canyon séance gone wrong.

Delicate Steve

Thu. 16, Elysium, 10pm; Fri. 17, Hotel Vegas Patio, 10:15pm
Chuck Klosterman's joke bio aside, New Jersey guitarist Steve Marion packs his instrumentals with a remarkable amount of musical depth, human warmth, and yes, humor. New album This Is Steve spools forth like a travelogue. The "Mrs. Robinson" verse nicked in "Winning" presaged Marion's recent collaboration with Paul Simon.


Thu. 16, Barracuda, 12:05am
Hailing from Houston by way of Bangkok, Khruangbin bangs out heady homages to the fleeting Seventies Thai funk movement. The legacy of Miami-based TK Records runs deep, but flanges and warbles take the trio to a new place on 2015 debut LP The Universe Smiles Upon You.


Thu. 16, the Main, 1am
Speedy Ortiz vocalist/guitarist Sadie Dupuis' solo pseudonym couches gender politics in cut-and-paste electro-pop on her debut LP, Slugger. The spray-on sheen of effervescence that drives "Get a Yes" almost belies its underlying theme of consent, while the fuzzed-out "Hype" upbraids shrinkwrapped female media narratives.

Birthday Club

Sat. 18, Javelina, 8pm
Drawing upon swatches of psychedelia and New Wave, Houston's Birthday Club crafts eclectic pop tunes awash in faint allusions to L.A.'s mid-Eighties Paisley Underground. Guitarist/vocalist Stephen Wells cuts a commanding centerstage persona on souped-up summer blasts like "Having Too Much Fun" from last year's Lighten Up EP.

The Chamanas

Sat. 18, Palm Door on Sixth, 9:20pm
Hailing from the El Paso/Juárez borderplex, the Chamanas embody cultural crossroads with a fresh fusion of ranchera, bossa nova, and electronic indie-pop. The versatile vocal presence of Paulina Reza ties it together. Once Once, the quintet's 2015 full-length debut, earned them a Latin Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

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SXSW Music 2017

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