Nine Must-See Indie Rockers at SXSW
Ambar LucidWed. 13, Stubb’s, 8:15pm; Thu. 14, Clive Bar, 2pm; Thu. 14, Palm Door on Sixth, 10:10pm
Striking debut full-length from Ambar Lucid, Dreaming Lucid finds the 18-year-old New Jersey native's powerfully soulful wail switching between English and Spanish. The lovesick "Eyes" skews atmospheric, brass blaring in the background, while "A Letter to My Younger Self" veers into fingerpicked folk. Most of the brand-new disc feels minimal, focused on her massive voice and emotive guitar playing.
Pip BlomWed. 13, Friends, 12mid; Thu. 14, Swan Dive, 12mid
Amsterdam's Pip Blom leans fully into a throwback sound. The 22-year-old's earlier demos build a mellowed grunge, but with a threepiece backing band, her new EP Paycheck moves away from lo-fi into a fuller, uneasy sound with twinges of the Breeders' effortlessly cool instrumentation. Angsty and brooding.
Pedro the LionWed. 13, Mohawk Outdoor, 12:45am
This year's Phoenix, named for David Bazan's hometown, is both a striking, introspective glimpse into his desert upbringing, and the Seattle-based singer's first release under the revered Pedro the Lion moniker in over a decade. Though Bazan remained musically prolific as a solo artist in both studio work and touring, it's the poignancy and power of the earnest, melodic emo from Pedro the Lion's late Nineties/early Aughts catalog that resonates most with his dedicated following.
TashaThu. 14, Scoot Inn, 2pm; Thu. 14, Cheer Up Charlies Inside, 10pm; Fri. 15, Palm Door on Sabine, 11pm
Poetry and gentleness bedrock Chicago songwriter and activist Tasha Viets-VanLear. Her stunning debut, Alone at Last, released last year on indie tastemaker Father/Daughter Records, subverts electric guitar into a soft, delicate space. Imbued with warmth and moments of honeyed vocals mingled with spoken word, its seven self-love songs all prompt "How radical it is to be tender?"
The BethsThu. 14, Container Bar, 4pm; Thu. 14, Scoot Inn, 8pm; Fri. 15, Native Hostel, 8:55pm
Made up of longtime friends, Auckland quartet the Beths plays guitar-heavy power-pop with a clever, pessimistic bite. High-energy debut Future Me Hates Me (Carpark) fuel injects singer-songwriter-guitarist Elizabeth Stokes' knowing pop-punk by offering 10 tracks at the intersection of fellow Kiwi rockers the Chills and early Best Coast.
SasamiThu. 14, Cheer Up Charlies, 8pm
Sasami Ashworth spent years in Los Angeles as the synth player in Cherry Glazerr and handling musical arrangements for the likes of Curtis Harding and Wild Nothing. Now, her mellowed vocals skim along a playful, unpredictable amalgam of sonics, from the Seventies glam of "Jealousy" to the sleepy "Free," featuring Devendra Banhart. Her new, self-titled debut offers a deeply personal sound.
The ChillsThu. 14, Hotel Vegas Patio, 8:55pm; Sat. 16, Beerland, 1am; Sun. 17, Palm Door on Sixth, 8pm
Twenty years after their last U.S. tour, New Zealand's pioneering Chills return. Founded in 1980 by Martin Phillipps with a jangling, wide-ranging sound of deceptive ease, the unthinkable darkness of "Pink Frost" beneath near-twee sheen and brainy guitars could easily slip into the foot-tapping pop of "I Love My Leather Jacket." Despite a start-stop trajectory, including a 19-year break between studio albums, both a dedicated fan base and the band's singular sound endure.
EmpathThu. 14, Hotel Vegas, 12:20am
Buzzy Philly fourpiece Empath counts a handful of released studio tracks that bounce around with a pop dissonance. Buried vocals deliver sing-along choruses teetering on melodies about to go off the rails, a blanket of manufactured noise colliding with nature samples. Chaotic but never muddled, EP Liberating Guilt and Fear flies through three concise tracks, spacey keys and mathy guitar lines flitting in and out, before veering into nine minutes of experimental, shapeless noise.
Gia MargaretFri. 15, Central Presbyterian Church, 7pm
Gia Margaret's introspective folk debut There's Always Glimmer is a study of subtleties, slow-moving and wandering. Lilting with hidden hopefulness and unexpected gut punches, it's rooted in how fleeting moments can accumulate in the catastrophic, and the microscopic details that hold everything together, too. "It's safe to say it's been a hard year," the Chicagoan sings in a near-whisper on "Groceries," later adding, "You bought the groceries, and you let the light in."