With Spring on the horizon, you know what that means? Festival season. Starting in just over a week, South by Southwest (SXSW) always seems to kick things off properly. With over a 1,000 acts showcasing their talents, South By never disappoints. I looked through the entire lineup and have come up with a few artists not to be missed. There’s something on this list for everyone. Enjoy!
DUCKWRTH – Though Duckwrth has been around since 2015, he is without a doubt the standout artist of 2017 in my opinion. The South Central L.A. based musician describes himself as “Ugly” which alludes to his 2016 release, “I’m Ugly.” However, he doesn’t mean it in the way you might think. It’s not at all about being unattractive in a vain sense, rather, an unabashed acceptance of a deep appreciation for all the unconventional qualities that make him unique. This dedication to individual expression comes through in both Duck’s sense of fashion and his music. I have no doubt the he will put on one hell of a show. Take a look at the video for my absolute favorite song of last year, “Boy.”
Anna Wise – You may be familiar with this Grammy Award winning singer as a frequent collaborator with Kendrick Lamar. Long time KCRW listeners of us midnight DJs probably know her best as the singer from Sonnymoon. With her second solo offering, Wise has produced a criminally overlooked album, in fact the most slept on album of last year. The Feminine: Act II combines future soul production with sprinkles of psychedelic, hip hop, rock, and pop. This amalgamation of sound serves as the canvas to her sultry vocals, illuminating the experience of a modern woman. Check out the video for “Balance In All,” which also made my Top Ten Songs of 2017 list.
Shamir – While Duckwrth was the breakout artist of 2017, Shamir was without a doubt the breakout artist of 2014. His Northern EP was primarily filled with fun deep house tracks that have just enough pop elements to be played in the suburbs. Shamir released his debut full length, Ratchet, in 2015 to both great success and critical acclaim. The industry was at his fingertips, and then he basically disappeared.
In recent interviews, Shamir has revealed that he was ill-prepared for the success and pressure that came along with it. After a few turbulent years which included being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, hearing voices in his head, and even contemplating quitting music altogether – Shamir moved back home to Vegas. There, he fell back in love with music and has changed his entire sonic direction. With all these transformations it should surprise no one that Shamir’s new music sounds nothing like his old. In fact, he chose to highlight this new approach by naming his latest album Revelations. Take a look at the video for “90’s Kids.” Warning, it contains some explicit lyrics.
Marlon Williams – This Kiwi crooner is quite the powerhouse. Williams captured our attention a few years ago with his self-titled debut and he just released an impressive sophomore effort. Some of the best albums are birthed out of a broken heart and Make Way for Love is no exception to this rule. It’s eleven songs about love lost expressed through blues, country, folk, a bit of pop, and a dash of early rock n’ roll. I have no doubt this latest record will make several of our top ten lists this year. Not only is his music excellent to listen to, but he is a force of nature on stage. I know said this is a list of artists not to be missed, but if there is one that you definitely shouldn’t miss it’s Marlon Williams. By the way, he’ll be playing KCRW’s showcase on Wednesday, March 14th alongside Sudan Archives and Wye Oak. Williams also stopped by MBE a couple of weeks ago for a live session that blew us all away. Check out his live version of “What’s Chasing You.”
J.I.D – The Never Story was one of the top 10 hip hop albums of 2017. Period. In a year where Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, and Drake (to name but a few heavy hitters) all released records… that’s quite a feat. But that’s not even the most impressive part of this “Never story.” It’s J.I.D’s first album! When one considers that he’s rapper out of Atlanta who knocked it out the park on his first offering without touching a trap beat one questions; is there anything this young man can’t do? In direct contrast to most of his Southern contemporaries, J.I.D’s style is more rap driven than production based. But don’t take that to mean that the production suffers because the music on The Never Story doesn’t take a back seat at all. I suppose it is this unique combination that drew the attention of J.Cole, who signed J.I.D to his record label Dreamville. Man, what a debut. If you’re a hip hop fan, do yourself a favor and grab this right now! Take a listen to “General,” but be warned it’s NSFW.
Sneaks – Eva Moolchan better known as Sneaks is a refreshing voice in the otherwise male dominated post-punk scene. Straightforward vocals, bass, drum machine, and electronics are what define her second full length. Yet somehow this minimalist approach, and production from Mary Timony (Helium, Ex Hex) make It’s a Myth unbelievably captivating. It’s laced with attitude, funk, and a whole lot of fun. Coming in at just under 19 minutes, the only thing missing from this album is more music. Hence, it being number 6 on this list. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth checking out and I have a suspicion that she’s going to put on one hell of a show. I like so many of the tracks on this record that it was hard to choose one video. I picked “Hair Slick Back” because it calls to mind the James Bond theme. Check it out, and I dare you to tell me it doesn’t.
(Shamir carousel photo credit: Shamir, DUCKWRTH header photo credit: Kadeem Ellis)