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10 Bands to Watch at Coachella 2012


February 14, 2012
It's the festival so nice they're doing it twice. At this year's Coachella, the fest will be staged, in its entirety, on two successive weekends; first from April 13-15, then again and April 20-22, with all the bands returning to play twice over. And, oh, how there are a lot of bands; and, in turn, a lot of bands I could've picked for these picks o' th' fest. So, with apologies to Andrew Bird, Beirut, EMA, Destroyer, The Horrors, Metronomy, Neon Indian, Pulp, Radiohead, St. Vincent, The Shins, and Wu Lyf —all of whom could've ended up on this list— here's the ten acts I'd be most geeked to see if I was venturing into the Indio heat. Whether once or twice.

1. Bon Iver

Bon Iver
D.L. Anderson
Yes, I know starting a list of Coachella recommendations with a dude who just won two Grammys is lame. But I'm fascinated by Bon Iver's rise from home-recording loner to festival-headlining superstar; and the fact that such hushed, intimate music is on such a humungous stage, here. What will Bon Iver playing prime-time at the outdoor-rock orgy be like? How will Justin Vernon's slippery, gossamer-thin autotune-folk play in front of a braying horde of overheated thousands? And what will the crowd do? Stand still in hushed awe? Mosh? Hold their lighters aloft for an hour straight? Sing along in their own ultra-tremulous falsetto, until the entire audience —thousands whimpering in nut-squeezing warbles— are joining in on a communal impression evocative of that Bon Joviver video?

2. Feist

Arts & Crafts
The inspired approach Feist took to making 2011's Metals —which shrugged off the baggage of The Reminder's Grammy-endorsed crossover with a set of artistry and grace— has been applied to the live showings in support of it. On stage, the Canadian crooner is bringing her downbeat, ache-addled acoustic songs to life with a backing band that includes, most awesomely, the dames from Mountain Man. With the human voice —in rough-hewn harmony— taking center stage in many of her set's key moments, Feist has tapped into the spirit of folk music in a profound way; putting a personal spin on both musical traditions and popular, stadium-sized shows.

3. First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit
When the world was first introduced to First Aid Kit in 2008, they were a pair of teenage sisters, sweetly covering Fleet Foxes in neighboring woodlands, unintentionally becoming viral video vixens as they went. Four years on, and the Söderberg siblings have come of age on their third LP, The Lion's Roar; a dynamic disc that finds their sweet harmonies carrying a salty sting. Produced by Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes/Monsters of Folk fame —and with celebrity guest vocals from Conor Oberst himself— the album's earnest embrace of Americana has struck a chord with listeners, and Coachella could coincide with First Aid Kit having a genuine crossover moment.

4. Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Eva Vermandel
Whereas other returned heroes of the '90s on this list all feel like odd fits for the Coachella setting —strange, anxious, quiet bands unexpectedly pushed onto outdoor festival stages by the passage of time— Québécois post-rock titans Godspeed You! Black Emperor seem a natural fit for playing in vast, outdoor spaces; for conquering crowds in their teeming tens of thousands. After all, there are eight of them; the co-op combining to slowly draw their "Gathering Storm"s into towering crescendos of thunder and fury. Perhaps the Godspeed! of old would've refused to play a corporate-sponsored orgy like Coachella on principle, but those attending can be glad to witness their mighty instrumentalism in all its ragged, fiery glory.

5. Jeff Mangum

Jeff Mangum
Orange Twin
The normal suspicions that come with reformations and returns —chiefly, that it's a cynical mining of cash from nostalgic middle-aged hipster— fall away when one speaks of Jeff Mangum. The once-vanished, still semi-reclusive leader of mythical '90s indie-poppers Neutral Milk Hotel has been embraced by indie fans like some returning savior; with his every show turning into a crowd singalong bursting with oh-my-god-I-can't-believe-this-is-happening joy. Some of that magic is bound to be diluted at Coachella —like, there may be people in attendance for whom seeing Mangum isn't a dream come true— but there's also the distinct possibility of folks singing along to "Two-Headed Boy" in their sunbaked thousands.

6. Keep Shelly in Athens

Keep Shelly in Athens
Forest Family
Shadowy Greek duo Keep Shelly in Athens do, indeed, hail from Athens; but who Shelly is, exactly, is as mysterious as their identity. Over a string of impressive singles, the biography-averse pair have shown themselves to be blessed practitioners of blissed-out Balearic disco; the sun-flecked productions of mastermind 'RPR' caroled sweetly —and sadly— by singer 'Sarah P.' They're obviously devoted to early Saint Etienne records, and feel a lot like peers of Swedish pop duo JJ. Where many an anonymous, blog-hyped act has failed to translate well to stage (like, well, JJ), the simple joys of KSIA's melancholy disco play from on stage with wonderful clarity, be it in small club or vast desert.

7. M83

The rise and rise of music festivals —and summer's demarcation as 'festival season'— has founded a new phenomenon: breakout indie bands forced to beef up their material for open-air settings, with often-uninspiring results. M83, however, seem perfectly suited to playing the biggest of stages. Anthony Gonzalez has long married shoegaze sonics with the giddy romanticism and excess of adolescent dreams, and his breakthrough 2011 double album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming took that sentiment and ran. Inspired by the run amok dreaming/ego of Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Gonzalez employed big guitars, big synths, and the big voice of Zola Jesus to stadium-sized effect.

8. Mazzy Star

Mazzy Star
Mazzy Star
Back when they were alternative nation's most unlikely platinum-selling crossover, Mazzy Star were renowned for being an evasive, vacant, 'audience unfriendly' proposition. Singer Hope Sandoval was the opposite of the charming frontwoman: silent, anxious, disengaged, almost passive-aggressive. At the height of their "Fade Into You" popularity, the duo's shows became a form of theater: with their quiet music sometimes eliciting loud boos. Which makes the back-from-the-wilderness pair a certain Coachella highlight for anyone with a healthy curiosity. Like, why go watch Pulp bang out the hits for the braying masses when you could watch another band of '80s/'90s refugees who could be either quietly magical or car-crash-ish tragic?

9. Real Estate

Real Estate
Shawn Brackbill
Real Estate's magical second record, Days, was one of the defining indie-pop discs of 2011: all melancholy lyrics, languorous jangle, and charmed melodies. It was the soundtrack to misspent summers eternal —wasted miles, aimless drives, and sweaty nights of swimming, drinking, yearning— and the reflective, nostalgic autumns that follow. Album standout "Green Aisles" was a thesis-level statement on this; equating the passing of season to the passing of time, and the human condition itself. With golden-toned guitars schooled in the Flying Nun sound. Since Days release, Real Estate have been on tour nearly non-stop, and will arrive in Indio in peak form, ready to claim their next-level mantle as alt-rock crossover.

10. Tune-Yards

One of the breakout stars of indie-rock's Year of the Saxophone, Merrill Garbus rode the release of her second LP, Whokill, to outdoor festival appearances and late-night television performances. Given Tune-Yards had been forged (including opening for Dirty Projectors) as a one-woman band, it was great to see Garbus holding true to her live ways. Instead of assembling a rockband, she added but a bassist and two saxophonists to the show, making Tune-Yards still all about its creative force. Assembling the songs via live loops, playing ukulele and keyboardist, and singing in that boisterous voice, she owns every show, every crowd ("I suppose 'stage presence' is the term for it," Garbus says). Including, surely, the overheated desert dwellers at Coachella 2012.
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