For the All Songs Considered gang, the second day of the South By Southwest music festival was packed with familiar favorites and new discoveries. On the heels of NPR Music's SXSW Showcase at Stubb's, Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Stephen Thompson and Ann Powers once again huddled in their favorite Austin churchyard to discuss the standouts and surprises from the day.
Alt-J's Joe Newman has a funny way of singing — especially for the uninitiated, it can seem cartoonish or, worse, affected. He bends his high, twisty voice in strange ways, wrapping it around inventive arrangements that burble and boom and otherwise ramp up a sense of unease. The easiest way to embrace Alt-J's idiosyncratic charm is to witness the band live; to hear how often Newman sings quietly and subtly, and to get a fuller feel for the prettiness at the core of Alt-J's songs.
Backed by only a DJ, New York rapper Le1f and his three-foot blond braids proved an apt counterpart to Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O, who'd finished performing on the nearby Stubb's main stage just minutes earlier. He performed with confidence, command and occasionally avant-garde fearlessness, but also kept an eye trained on a desire to entertain, above all else.
A studio wizard still in his early 20s, Youth Lagoon's Trevor Powers makes music that documents the spiraling uncertainty of a worried mind. It must have been tough to translate to the live stage, where the comfort and cover of the studio are stripped away and every fussy swirl has to be thoughtfully re-created or excised entirely.
If Katie Crutchfield ever becomes a solo star, it's hard to imagine how the Waxahatchee singer's most bruised and beautiful songs will translate to a gigantic stage. Tucked into a back room at Stubb's during SXSW on March 13 — and following in the immediate aftermath of Nick Cave's swaggering turn under the stars — Crutchfield opened her 25-minute set with a string of fragile solo songs, each more delicate than the last. This was interior music, made of guts and nerves and other viscera we don't share easily.