As the entertainment industry flocks to South by Southwest for their annual look at the best and brightest in new music, here are a few recent acts that may have slipped through the cracks. Cutting across different genres, each of the five acts below are personal favorites on heavy rotation on my iPod. Inventive music supervisors have plugged a couple into popular shows like Gossip Girl and 90210, but for the rest of these working musicians, it's still a long road to making it big. Here's to your first steps.
Fresh from her native New York City, Kristine Elezaj is attracting the publicity to launch herself into the pop stratosphere with recent mentions in New York magazine and at Radar Online. Her newest music video, "Souvenirs," debuted at number 7 on LOGO's music video countdown program, bringing her catchy hip-hoppified pop into instant rotation. But of her available tracks, the single, "Let You Know," stands out as the most instantly catchy and danceable, a musical jaunt found somewhere at the intersection of Britney Spears and Rihanna. "Sorry you didn't see, that there was so much more to me," Elezaj snaps as the song cocks back on its heels, and makes for an exit. At once vulnerable and self-aware, Elezaj's singles don't stray too far from the current production trends of pop music, but set against defiant and sassy lyrics Elezaj's style invites listeners to pump up the volume. "Now I'll be the one that's haunting your dreams," Elezaj taunts her listeners. With a single this listenable, one hopes it's a promise and not a threat.
Best Single: "Let You Know"
You've Heard Her: On LOGO's NewNowNext Music Countdown
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
There's a real sweetness to the alt-countrified production of "Home," a mid-tempo love song by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. The song whistles you along on a journey across simple strums of the guitar and jangling piano keys as vocalists Alex Ebert and Jade Castrinos weave a duet about their journey deep into love with each other. "And in the streets, you're running free, like it's only you and me," Castrinos sings, the beat moving like a rickety jalopy through a golden field of memories. Somewhere between Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Jenny Lewis's collaboration with The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros cuddles up against your heart and makes you feel as though, with a little love, you can make a home for yourself anywhere. And yes, darlin', it will all work out.
Best Single: "Home"
You've Heard Them: On Letterman about six month ago
Nikki And Rich
If Amy Winehouse really kicked the hard stuff, her music would lose the grit that makes a track like "Back To Black" saw across your wronged heartstrings. But every mood doesn't call for a moody soundtrack, which is why Nikki & Rich's playful ode to Motown doo-wop is so damned good. A small show last fall at L.A.'s The Viper Room was proof that lead singer Nikki Leonti has the pipes to back up the lyrics, which play solidly against music man Rich Skillz's hand-clapping backing. With pips in tow, Leonti and her beehive of kicking, up-tempo jams had the venue rocking and wanting for more. Fortunately, the duo's first single, "Cat & Mouse," a swinging and self-confident little number about putting up or shutting up, is available for download at the iTunes music store. Here's to further rotation.
Best Single: "Cat & Mouse"
You've Heard Them: On the season premiere of 90210
Music 4 Music People 5
DJ Ryan Kenney
This track is more like an album than a song, but the nature of remixed music makes it hard to evaluate a set except in its entirety. Kenney weaves between tracks by Sneaky Sound System and The Presets, Friendly Fires and Lykke Li, Miami Horror and Damn Arms, in a set that never loses its funked-out house street cred. "Music 4 Music People 5" demonstrates a willingness to experiment, to cut a rug across the dancefloors of the world, and connect all the different tracks with musical lightshow that races and bends like the freeways of Los Angeles. It's an interesting and refreshing spin on what it means to get down: part funk, part house, part pop, "Music 4 Music People 5" feels good to listen to, like an endless beach party with all your best friends.
Best Single: Music 4 Music People 5
You've Heard Him: On the most recent Dew Tour
Over the years, the Swedish rock scene has proven to have some good tricks in its record sleeves, and the band Miike Snow follows in that tradition. Stockholm does things in its own way, and you can hear it in the way "Animal" jaunts along, in chords that ricochet happily in your ears. "I change shapes just to hide in this place but I'm still an animal," the song reports on the human condition. But, for me, the standout track of Miike Snow's self-titled first album is "Cult Logic," a rousing anthem that seeks to claim its own destiny. "Will you free me from the logic that I knew / I believe it even if it is not true," strains lead singer Andrew Wyatt's voice, as it feeds your inner rebel. A favorite amongst the young Hollywood set, Miike Snow's freshman effort is diverse in its sound and thoughtful in its lyrical composure. Well played, Sweden, yet again.
Best Single: "Cult Logic"
You've Heard It: Gossip Girl, MTV's The Buried Life