Courtney Barnett

If you have two hours to spare, consider scrolling through South By Southwest’s official list of musicians performing over the course of the seven-day festival. If you only have five minutes, let us do the work for you — below, check out some of the festival’s standouts. 

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett is seconds away from joining the female rock goddess hall of fame. Barnett’s head-bobbing rock rivals the works of Debbie Harry, the Wilson sisters and Annie Clark. Her second album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, drops March 24. 

Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Barnett writes and performs wordy, guitar-heavy songs with poetic elegance. The 26 year old churns out music filled with underappreciated literary techniques, including alliteration, thoughtful pacing and extended metaphors.   

Often times, Barnett uses her choruses as stanza breaks from her long-winded, spoken verses. “Pedestrian at Best,” the first single off her sophomore album, follows this structure with great success. Every word is clear and audible, magnifying each word’s meaning. 

In preparation for her album’s release, the Aussie will perform a number of shows during SXSW. Already an indie-rock darling, Barnett should find Austin and its relaxed hipster citizens welcoming. 

Similar artists — Angel Olsen, Waxahatchee, The War on Drugs

Where: Cedar Street Courtyard

  1. When: Thursday, March 19 12:00–1:00 a.m.
  3. Where: Radio Day Stage Austin Convention Center
  4. When: Friday, March 20 5:00–5:40 p.m.     

Listen now: "Pedestrian at Best," Courtney Barnett


Leon Bridges

No one does it like Leon Bridges. Bridges. a 24-year-old Fort Worth native, is the R&B soul singer Sam Cooke fans have waited for since the late artist’s death 50 years ago. All signs point to time travel, from his ’50s inspired outfits to his musical themes. 

With the help of Austin musicians and White Denim duo Austin Jenkins and Josh Black, Bridges produced his first album after signing with Columbia records — the same label that represents Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan. The highly anticipated release is set for late summer. “Coming Home,” one of the two singles available for download, became a “Top 10 Most Viral Track” on Spotify after its release in February.

His performances are subtle and genuine. Bridges’ authenticity makes you question what he’s doing in 2015. His ease with the guitar and confident vocals give off the impression he would perform exactly the same way in front of his bathroom mirror as he would in front of the president. Tracks such as “Better Man” will make any girl blush before the chorus even starts. 

Artists you might like — Sam Cooke, Al Green, The Supremes

  2. Where: St. David’s Historic Sanctuary
  3. When: Friday, March 20 10:45–11:30 p.m.

Listen now: “Coming Home,” Leon Bridges


Christine and The Queens

The beautifully bilingual lead singer of Christine and the Queens, Héloïse Letissier, is France’s latest transplant. Her highly synthesized and layered pop hits blend English and French lyrics in a consumable way. In her moody song “Nuit 17 à 52,” about 20 percent of the lyrics are in English and the rest are in French.

In 2014, Letissier released her first full-length album, Chaleur Humaine, which topped the charts in Belgium and peaked at No. 2 in France. Most of her music is unavailable in the United States with the exception of iTunes and her official YouTube page.

Letissier’s synthpop songs and the accompanying artistic music videos haven’t gone unnoticed stateside. Marina and the Diamonds asked Christine and the Queens to open for their SXSW show.

Artists you might like — Marina and The Diamonds, Stromae, Phoenix

  2. Where: Empire Garage
  3. When: Saturday, March 21 10:00–10:50 p.m.

Listen now: "Nuit 17 à 52," Christine and the Queens


Max Frost

We all know that kid — the one who attends UT to please their parents but inevitably drops out to join the Austin music scene. Max Frost was that kid. In 2012, the singer left UT after studying English for two years and released the successful alternative hit “White Lies.” 

Not long after, his song caught the attention of the music industry. Frost signed with Atlantic Records, which produced his 2013 EP Low High Low. Beats Electronic, the company Dr. Dre co-founded, picked up “White Lies” for commercial use, and in 2013, Frost opened shows for Fitz and The Tantrums and Gary Clark Jr.

Frost has yet to completely formulate his music style, but if his 2014 release, “Let Me Down Easy,” is any indication, the 22 year old will be a force in the R&B pop music world. 

The Austin singer-songwriter has three performances planned and certainly a number of shows yet to be announced. 

Artists you might like — Dan Croll, Fitz and The Tantrums, Joywave

  1. Where: Parish
  2. When: Tuesday, March 17 12:00–12:40 a.m.
  4. Where: Stubbs
  5. When: Thursday, March 19, 9:00–9:40 p.m.
  7. Where: Victorian Room at The Driskill
  8. When: Friday, March 20 1:00–1:50 p.m.

Listen now: "White Lies," Max Frost


Check back on March 1 for our next installment of the DT Monthly Playlist. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter at @thedailytexan for great music reviews and recommendations all month long.

For those who couldn’t care less about the new Katy Perry album released Tuesday, last week, two women put together two wildly different yet intriguing releases that show what pop music actually sounds like in 2013.

Between the folk-rock of Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett on her new EP and the dark electronic-pop hybrid of Los Angeles artist Kelela on her new free mixtape, these rising artists are showcasing exciting music. 

The first of these two releases is The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas by Courtney Barnett, a collection of all her previously released material in the past two years available for purchase and streaming on her Bandcamp page. Barnett is the ultimate charming slacker, singing about how she is too lazy to even buy a television, with a wide range and a knack for great songwriting that fans of Liz Phair will enjoy. She adeptly shifts between indie pop on “Don’t Apply Compression Gently” to stream of consciousness folk-rock reminiscent of early Dylan on the incredible “History Eraser.” This all comes together on the standout “Avant Gardener,” a winding tale of the singer’s insecurities, as she sings about “having trouble breathing in” and doing “anything to take [her] mind from where it’s supposed to be.” The song, like the album as a whole, is expertly written and a great collection of art that fans of sharply written folk-rock will love.

For those who prefer their pop music on the darker and more futuristic side of the spectrum, there is nothing better than the free debut mixtape from Kelela, the electronic-pop star previously notable for collaborating vocals on dance tracks by groups like Teengirl Fantasy. Kelela’s debut, Cut 4 Me, combines the dark and boundary-pushing production of experimental dance artists, such as Girl Unit or Kingdom, with breezy pop that glides over the complex beats. Imagine if one of the Knowles sisters sang soaring hooks over the harsh yet enticing beats present on Kanye West’s Yeezus for an idea of what Kelela is doing on her mixtape. 

Songs such as “Enemy” or “Do It Again” feature production that is so slippery and tricky they could serve as intriguing cuts for the dance floors of underground clubs on their own. Kelela’s vocals ride in on top of the songs with such ease that she recalls the way Aaliyah would expertly sing over Timbaland’s tricky beats, but updated for 2013. Cut 4 Me is a wildly inventive debut that is incredibly enticing, showing what forward-thinking pop music truly sounds like. 

There are plenty of great female musicians making great pop music in 2013, from the ’90s inspired musicians in Waxahatchee and Speedy Ortiz to the electronic pop of artists such as FKA twigs and CHRVCHES. Barnett and Kelela may be doing it in different ways, but on their debuts, they show how much more there is to contemporary pop music than what can be heard on the radio.