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Here's how to keep your ear to the SXSW ground

Posted 7:59am on Wednesday, Mar. 07, 2012

The din is building -- another South by Southwest is nearly upon us.

Beginning Tuesday, bands from across the country and around the world will pour into Austin for five nearly nonstop days of performing, haggling, wheeling and dealing, and, occasionally, grabbing a bite to eat.

The full-on sensory assault that will be the 26th annual South by Southwest Music Festival and Conference is primed to welcome a few thousand bands, label executives, media and fans to dozens of venues throughout the capital city, with nearly everyone on the hunt for this year's breakout star (or stars).

Marquee artists making appearances this year include Bruce Springsteen (slated to sit for an extended interview March 15; he'll perform with the E Street Band later that night), '90s veterans Counting Crows (headlining Auditorium Shores) and Fiona Apple (readying her first album in nearly a decade), as well as Skrillex (fresh off his Grammy wins last month) and Norah Jones (debuting fresh tracks from her forthcoming LP, Little Broken Hearts).

One controversial singer originally scheduled as part of the SXSW scrum -- the pouting, poised Lana Del Rey -- withdrew from her showcase a few weeks ago, following a widely derided turn on Saturday Night Live's stage and middling reviews for her debut album, Born To Die.

But have no fear -- SXSW does not face a dearth of hopefuls ready and willing to take any available spot. Separating the possible future stars from the pack can be an exercise in throwing darts blindfolded, but it's also part of the fun. Here are five acts that just might look back at this year's SXSW as the launching pad for all that came afterward.

Alabama Shakes

One of 2012's most eagerly anticipated albums is this Alabama quartet's debut, Boys & Girls, which arrives April 10. Fronted by the astonishing Brittany Howard, whose voice channels 50 years of fearless rock 'n' roll women into a singular, powerful alto, Alabama Shakes is one of this year's de facto buzz bands, with several showcases on its schedule. The group's lead single, Hold On, has been building steam online and on radio, coupled with a recent, scorching turn on Conan O'Brien's TBS show (seriously, YouTube it). This stuff will restore your soul. (alabamashakes.com)

Com Truise

Don't be surprised if producer/designer Seth Haley -- who performs under the name Com Truise; yes, it's a deliberate twisting of Tom Cruise -- and his music catapult you right back to the era of Risky Business. Haley's synth-drenched electronica (or, as he describes it, "mid-fi synth-wave, slower-motion funk") reeks of Casio and Tron. Yet, there's a soulfulness amid all the digital sound and fury; Haley leverages nostalgia, but not at the expense of creating something that can be enjoyed now. The debut Com Truise LP, Galactic Melt, was released last summer. (comtruise.com)

John Fullbright

One of the most talented troubadours to come out of Oklahoma in a generation, this Okemah native bears the legacy of Woody Guthrie. Only in his early 20s, Fullbright's expressive voice and songs are lined with the weight of years not yet lived. Already a veteran of the folk circuit (Arlo Guthrie counts himself among Fullbright's fans), he's wrapping up work on a debut full-length due out this year. In the wake of Adele's staggering success, it's not difficult to envision Fullbright charting a similar path to stardom. (johnfullbrightmusic.com)

Grimes

Vancouver native Claire Boucher performs as Grimes -- a favorite of Dallas-based blog Gorilla vs. Bear -- and builds dreamy, beautifully textured soundscapes on her just-released debut LP, Visions. Although Boucher seems at first to be just another child of the '80s recycling the sounds of her youth, Visions slips under your skin and stays there, thanks to propulsive tracks like Genius, which makes you feel like dancing with abandon in a disco made entirely of clouds. (grimesmusic.com)

Ed Sheeran

If you happened to catch the Brit Awards (broadcast on cable the week after the Grammys), you probably saw the moment British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran became a rising star. The self-described "ginger" performed a riveting take on his Lego House, from his debut album +. Imagine a less dour James Blunt, hopped up on rap and impressive on the acoustic guitar. He has signed with Elektra Records, which has yet to release any of Sheeran's music in the U.S., but he'll be a fixture in front of audiences in Austin and, later this year, when he opens for Irish rockers Snow Patrol on their U.S. tour, which hits Dallas on May 16. (edsheeran.com)

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