• 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5


By Emily Strong


Asleep in the Sea


Every year before SXSW, I go to sxsw.com and listen to all the bands who are scheduled to perform. I do this knowing that I'll only get to see approximately three percent of the bands, and should therefore try to make it the best three percent possible. The dark horse for SXSW '05 was a little band from Phoenix called Asleep in the Sea. I'd never even heard their name before sorting through the 1200+ bands listed, but after one listen to “"Dance On"”, they were the one band that I had to see above all else. Their performance did not disappoint. Sprawled across the long and narrow stage of the Hideout, the three boys launched into a set that made the outside world disappear. They bashed through their songs with a cheerful irreverence and immutable spunk that had the audience rolling with laughter and singing along. Eli Kuner played the drums while standing, jumping, dancing and singing, never missing a beat but always cracking a joke. Meanwhile, guitarist Tom Filardo and keyboardist Owen Evans bantered back and forth between and even during songs, changing lyrics on the fly to suit the moment at hand. It was one of the most standout performances I've ever seen, and earned the band a permanent place in my heart.

Better yet, I was pleasantly surprised to discover after purchasing their debut EP, Yay! O.K. Yeah?, that their dynamic presence carries over quite well to recorded media. The five-song EP blithely disregards conventional wisdom and hurls headlong through the songs with reckless abandon and a mischievous smirk. In short, the recordings are the live performance, crammed into a neat little digital package. Having won the love and loyalty of the locals, not to mention the numerous national touring acts they have opened for, it seems inevitable that their quirky brand of pop will soon win over the hearts and minds of music lovers everywhere. Update: shortly after this write-up was published, Asleep in the Sea broke up. Though we, the listening public, will never get a chance to hear any full-length effort from the band, they still hold up - a year later - as one of my favorites. Defunct or no, these guys are worth a listen.

Start with: “Dance On”

Label alert: Absolutely Kosher, Merge, Secretly Canadian, Touch and Go

Ian Cooke


What Owen Pallett does for violins and Joanna Newsom does for harps, Ian Cooke does for cellos. For the most part a solo artist, the classically-trained Cooke performs with a cello, a loop pedal, a piano and occasionally a drummer, all the while singing in a voice that slips easily from a salty croon to a deliberate staccato and back again. Like Pallett and Newsom, he has found the balance between high art and pop culture, blending the two into something that is both masterful and beautiful. Based in Denver, Cooke is very much a self-made man, having won a sizeable local audience without the help of any kind of professional management, marketing or publicity. He's brought himself this far with a DIY work ethic and word of mouth promotion; it's only a matter of time and the right connections to bring him out onto an international stage.

Start with: “Vasoon”

Label alert: Drag City, Polyvinyl, Subpop, Tomlab

The Minni-Thins

It all started with some hysterical laughter and then a shriek: “"I wanna rock!”" By the time the cowbell kicked in a couple of seconds later, I was hooked; it was apparent from the beginning of their first single, "“Let Me Be Your Liquor Man”", that the Minni-Thins very clearly do rock. From their maniacal live show to their biting sarcasm to their unique blend of bluegrass and punk - which they like to call “"blackgrass"” - everything about the Minni-Thins screams "rock—" (sometimes literally.) Frontman Jeremy Strickland's scream-sing is an unmistakable and inseparable feature of the band's sound. Raw and jagged, it saws through the songs with breathtaking ferocity, ringing in your ears long after the music is over. How they have managed to put out two incendiary full-length albums without any label attention aside from their own Vibrating Needle Collective is beyond me; as far as I can tell, there aren't many bands who even come close to what they do.

Start with: “Let Me Be Your Liquor Man”

Label alert: 5RC, French Kiss, Matador, Subpop

Praise the Twilight Sparrow

Folk music, like most other genres, is only as good as the person who writes and performs it. Thus, in this age when just about anyone can pick up some instruments and build a following through the Internet, it is one of the genres to have suffered most from the upsurge of mediocre talent who litter the web with their inane drivel. Fortunately for folk aficionados, there is some gold in the ore: bands like Praise the Twilight Sparrow, who have risen with the tide of online DIYers and make the whole phenomenon worthwhile. Hailing from the Netherlands, PtTS frontman Pascal Hallibert has a unique perspective on the American folk tradition, and therefore has an uncanny ability to cut straight to the heart of what made legends like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens so special while still bringing something fresh and distinctly European to the table. Writing songs that would sound just as good being sung in front of a campfire as they would being performed in a concert hall, Praise the Twilight Sparrow meets people from all walks of life at their level and travels with them to the end, the way any good bard would.

Start with: “South of No North”

Label alert: Drag City, Jagjaguwar, Misra, Morr Music