SXSW 2012: 25 Can't-Miss Acts

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Patrick Watson
In 2007, Patrick Watson took home the Polaris Prize – Canada's esteemed music award – for the album Close to Paradise. It was a feat he almost repeated just two years later when the follow-up, Wooden Arms, became a finalist for the honor. Whether Watson's upcoming album, Adventures in Your Own Backyard, goes three-for-three with a nomination remains to be seen. Watson's hushed, intensely musical pieces are often created using found instruments such as bicycle parts and common household items. Patrick Watson will showcase selections from the new album at St. David's Historical Sanctuary on March 15th.

Miike Snow
Miike Snow's new album, Happy to You, drops on March 27th, so the international electro-pop band will no doubt be eager to show off new material during their numerous SXSW appearances. At SXSW 2010, they packed their showcases and picked up a strong industry buzz along the way; expect the same for their 2012 return. Having worked as producers and songwriters for pop stars such as Madonna and Britney Spears, the three artists behind Miike Snow bring an undeniable pop sensibility to their music.

Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley met in philosophy class. They fell in love. They got married. They sailed along the Eastern Seaboard. When they returned from their seven-month journey, they formed a band. It's easy to compare their easy-breezy indie pop to their sailing expedition, but their first album, 2011's Cape Dory, actually was influenced by the 2,500 nautical miles they covered. Their latest album, Young & Old, finds the couple still very much in love, but with feet planted firmly on solid ground. See them at the Rolling Stone Rock Room day party at La Zona Rosa on March 16th.

Fanfarlo have gone three-for-three with their previous SXSW appearances, earning praise (and new fans) after each consecutive year. This year, the British band comes in support of new album Rooms Filled With Light. They still reference influences ranging from Broken Social Scene to Pavement, but they've developed their own signature sound. Among other showcases, Fanfarlo will perform at the Radio Day Stage in the Austin convention center on Friday, March 16th.

ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra)
With lyrics like "I'm in love with everyone," ALO might be more San Francisco than Rice-a-Roni. But their open-air grooves and bonfire-ready vibes are just as well-suited for the beaches of Hawaii, where they recorded 2010's Man of the World with pal Jack Johnson. It makes sense: keyboardist Zach Gill moonlights in Johnson's touring band. The band plays SXSW in advance of a busy touring season where they will hit the summer festival circuit, including an appearance at Bonnaroo.

The Shins
The Shins are back, and what better place than SXSW to reintroduce themselves? After taking time off to record and tour with Broken Bells, ringleader James Mercer reassembled the Shins, this time featuring Richard Swift (keyboards), Yuuki Matthews (bass), Jessica Dobson (guitar) and Joe Plummer (drums). The band's new album, Port of Morrow, marks a welcome return to form for the indie pop band. They'll showcase the new material at the large, outdoor Auditorium Shores stage on March 15th.

Seattle's glitch-folk rockers Motopony come well prepared for the SXSW shuffle, having performed in four cities in just one day as part of a Southwest Airlines promotion last year. The four-piece features Daniel Blue, a former fashion designer, in the pilot seat. Still touring behind 2011's Motopony, the group will pull into SXSW beginning on March 14th for a set at the Belmont.

Built to Spill
Unlike most bands that come to SXSW to plug a new album or build a buzz, Built to Spill are just coming to play. Latest album There Is No Enemy was released back in 2009 and a label rep confirms that they will head into the studio in April – but there's no guarantee the band will test-drive any new material in Austin. And that's just fine, because Built to Spill are indie rock vanguards who already have a vast catalog to draw from. They're playing a number of SXSW showcases as well as the concurrent MXTX (Mess With Texas) festival on March 16th.

All-star hardcore outfit OFF! will release their self-titled album on May 8th. With a power lineup that features vocalist Keith Morris (Circle Jerks/Black Flag), guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), bassist Steven McDonald (Red Kross) and drummer Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket from the Crypt/Hot Snakes), OFF! will feature 16 tracks of fury. It's only appropriate that the band would choose SXSW as a staging ground to preview the new material – OFF! made their live debut at SXSW back in 2010. They'll make several stops at this year's festival, including a set at the Lustre Pearl on the afternoon of March 17th, followed by a set that night at Club DeVille.

The Magnetic Fields
It's taken them more than a decade, but indie darlings the Magnetic Fields will finally make their first SXSW appearance this year. And with such convenient timing: The band's new album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, came out March 6th. Their tenth full-length, it features a return to the use of synthesizers – something bandleader and visionary Stephen Merritt avoided altogether on their previous three albums. The Magnetic Fields will show off the new material, keyboards and all, at NPR's showcase on March 15th and again at ACL Live the following night.

When Santigold first started making waves in 2007, she was often compared to another eccentric frontwoman, M.I.A. But the artist formerly known as Santogold has since carved out her own path through opening stints for Coldplay, the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z and Kanye West, establishing herself as a live force to be reckoned with. Her new record, Master of My Make Believe, is out in April.

Electric Flower
In London, circa 2006, guitarist Imaad Wasif, on tour with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, got into an elevator with drummer Josh Garza from the Secret Machines. The elevator got stuck. They had their respective instruments with them and jammed to pass the time. When a technician saved them, they went their separate ways and thought nothing of it – until bumping into each other on a street in Los Angeles five years later. This time, they jammed in Wasif's rehearsal space, formed a band, cut an EP, and are now letting the rest of the world catch on. Electric Flower could easily be one of this year's SXSW breakouts.

Diamond Rugs
Much like he did when he formed Middle Brother, Deer Tick's John McCauley thought he was simply assembling a group of musicians to help him cut an extracurricular album. This time, he called in Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Ian St. Pe (Black Lips), Hardy Morris (Dead Confederate), Bryan Dufresne (Six Finger Satellite) and Deer Tick bandmate Robbie Crowell. These star players all started contributing songs, and a band was born. And, again like Middle Brother, the buzz has been nearly instantaneous. For one of their SXSW appearances, Diamond Rugs will perform on the big stage at Auditorium Shores (March 16th).

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