The breadth of acts on display at Lollapalooza this year is overwhelming. We’ve assembled this 25 track playlist to get you ready to experience the best the fest has to offer – from the most ragged edges of the fringe to names you know and love. Turn it up and dive in.
1. Foo Fighters, “Bridge Burning”
No song better sums up Foo Fighters circa 2011 than this one. It opens with a click-click-click that could be a climbing rollercoaster before bug-eyed Dave Grohl howls, “These are my famous last words,” and the song dives full-on into chaos. Half-second guitars and heart-attack percussion surround an eerie, sinewy chorus that seems to foretell one man’s downfall. It’s the Foos at their darkest and best.
2. Coldplay, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”
Fortunately, we’ve made it past that weird, unfortunate cultural intersection where we all tried to pretend we were too cool for Coldplay. Do you like heart-on-sleeve-lyrics? Slow, insistent crescendos? Guitars that corkscrew like suncatchers? Lovably preposterous song titles? “Every Teardrop” delivers all of that in spades – and tacks on a world-beating chorus at no extra charge.
3. A Perfect Circle, “Magdalena”
It’s songs like this that make the strongest case for each and every Perfect Circle reunion. All of the band’s essential elements are on display: unsettling religious imagery, charred, churning guitars and the kind of expansive atmospherics that feel like a long spin in deep space. Maynard James Keenan rifles through each of his voices – stern and imposing, pained and searching – before arriving finally on a kind of demonic screech perfectly suited to the song’s defiant agnosticism.
4. Cee-Lo, “Satisfied”
This may not be the Cee-Lo song everyone knows, but it’s the one that best showcases his strengths. Against a bone-dry Motown backdrop that could have been cribbed straight from the pages of Holland/Dozier/Holland, Cee-Lo, in his creamy tenor, promises, “Darling I will do my best/ I’ve fallen at the feet of your highness.” When he sings it like that, who’s going to doubt him?
5. Bright Eyes, “Triple Spiral”
This buzzing, scuzzy gem from The People’s Key finds main man Conor Oberst straying away from the rustic folk that characterized previous outings toward grunting guitars and outer space synths. He gamely allows his trademark yelp to be chewed up and synthesized, sounding like it was recorded on a mangled cassette. But it’s not all ugliness. There’s a honey of a pop tune hiding beneath the murk, and the choir of female vocals that pop up halfway through sound practically angelic – bright, floating figures lurking just beyond the shadows.
6. Arctic Monkeys, “The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala”
Taken together, the Arctic Monkeys discography reads like a crib sheet for British rock history. This, then, is them in their Smiths phase. A loose jangle circles Alex Turner’s lazy croon, which paints a picture of an aloof glamour girl that’s simultaneously out of touch and beyond his reach. Flummoxed, he resorts to issuing a timeless rock truism: “Sha la la la.” Against such a twinkling musical backdrop, it has all the profundity of Kierkegaard.
7. Deftones, “You’ve Seen the Butcher”
“I wanna watch the world creep across my skull,” howls Chino Moreno in the chorus of this sickening slow-burner from long-running California art rockers Deftones. It may open like a come-on (“I wanna take you home”) but by the time it hits that agonized chorus, there’s something deeper and darker at work. The song plays out like a fever dream: grim guitars that paw like restless panthers and synths that ooze like poured plasma prove yet again that anyone dismissing this band as “nu-metal” hasn’t been paying attention for at least a decade.
8. Beirut, “East Harlem”
It must be a while since Beirut’s Zach Condon has been to East Harlem. No simmering dance party, this song from the upcomgin Beirut album The Rip Tide is, instead, wistful. A bleary brass section punctuates Crondon’s gentle crooning about a lonely woman in the titular neighorhood waiting idly by her window for the night to come.
9. Crystal Castles, “Not in Love”
If you’re going to enlist Robert Smith to sing for you, you’d better make sure you’ve got suitably dour material for him to work with. Fortunately, Crystal Castles ace it. Constructing a gleaming framework of high-wattage synths, they turn over to Smith a monologue about a bitter breakup that matches the desperation and hopelessness of the best Cure songs. He pours himself completely into the simple chorus – “I’m not in love” – as synths explode like fireworks around him. Few other singers can make emotional devastation sound like utter bliss.
10. Atmosphere, “Just for Show”
That dank reggae backbeat may say ‘party,’ but “Just For Show”‘s lyrics say otherwise. A tormented tale of a disintegrating relationship, the song is deceptively sing-song, with lead MC Slug bouncing along a chorus that would do Eminem proud. But where Em favors razor-sharp call-outs, “Just For Show” cuts deeper because it’s so conflicted. “You don’t really want, you don’t really want me to go,” Slug sings on the chorus – but it’s not clear if he’s trying to convince his lover of this, or himself.
11. Lykke Li, “Sadness is a Blessing”
Never one to shy away from high drama, the queen of Swedish pop crafts a stunning, Wall of Sound ode to heartbreak that would do the Shirelles proud. This is the song that’s playing when the greaser-boy’s motorcycle disappears into the distance.
12. Cage the Elephant, “Aberdeen”
The title of this track is no accident. Chanelling all the anger and rage simmering beneath the surface of Kurt Cobain’s hometown, Cage the Elephant make a shoulda-been buzz bin classic for a new generation.
13. The Kills, “Satellite”
The last thing the Kills need in their repertoire are a few more shadows, but this night stalker from the excellent Blood Pressures makes a strong case for a little more gloom. But the song’s best asset is the way it flips the spooky chorus to the Congos’ classic “Fisherman” and turns it into this song’s ghostly, wordless refrain – two generations of dark prophets joining hands across decades.
14. The Mountain Goats, “Damn These Vampires”
John Darnielle is such a masterful lyricist that he can write a song about the undead and still have it be filled with real-world pathos. Of course, that’s not all its about – because no Mountain Goats song is ever really about just one thing – but whether the line “goddamn these bite marks,” delivered in Darnielle’s matchless, quavering tenor, is about Dracula or other forces seeking to suck the life out of you is no matter. It’s that he’s capable of making you feel both losses at once.
15. The Drums, “Me & the Moon”
The Drums have melodrama down pat. Jonathan Pierce has perfected the same kind of woe-is-me pout that powered the best Human League songs, and his band dutifully supplies enough gilded guitars and chugging dance rhythms to distract from the heartache at the song’s core. “You still sleep with your back to me,” he sobs in the chorus, asking, “is it me and you or me and the moon?” This is the stuff that CW channel soaps are made of.
16. The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, “Belong”
Twee no more, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart kick off their latest album, the excellent Belong, with a shot of high-octane Cherub Rock. Those dry drums, that overbaked guitar – the precise moment they collide feels beamed in from 1993. “We’re tried another/ let’s try each other,” Kip Berman sings with classic slacker indifference, before the band slams in with a thrilling, feedback-drenched whallop that proves his idleness is just a pose.
17. Cults, “Go Outside”
If there are elementary schools on Venus, this is what the kids are singing on the playground. A pretty picture postcard of a song, the simple, circling melody for “Go Outside” is first delivered by a wind chime in the song’s opening seconds and then carried through by Cults’ Madeline Follin, who sounds like she’s signing it from the bottom of a well. There’s a hazy, nostalgic distance to the whole song that makes it alluring – the kind of washed-out photograph in which you can make out impressions, but never concrete shapes.
18. Titus Andronicus, “A More Perfect Union”
Few musical moments from last year were as ecstatic as the one that happens three-and-a-half minutes into this song, when a gang of backing vocalists appear from the shadows to join the members of Titus Andronicus for a ragged, shout-along refrain. Until that point, the song is owned by Titus frontman Patrick Stickles and his blown-out scorched-earth rasp, which he uses to draw parallels between the Civil War and the tension between New Jersey and, well, everywhere else in this great land of ours. Sporting both Garden State in-jokes and acrid regret in equal amounts, Titus are just the latest in a line of erudite punks seeking release through a great primal scream.
19. Reptar, “Context Clues”
This young Athens outfit takes a maximalist’s approach to pop music. This cute, quirky single from their forthcoming EP twitches with a cornucopia of cuckoo clock whirrs, hoot owls, alarm clocks and off-kilter ‘sproing’s. To the bands benefit, it never sounds hectic or overstuffed, and when it finally shakes free of those million sonic accoutrements and eases into a high-flying finale, the elation is almost palpable.
20. Tennis, “Long Boat Pass”
Tennis’s debut album Cape Dory is about a boat, and the songs it contains have deliciously lazy ease of gliding idly and slowly down the stream. “Long Boat Pass” sounds like Belinda Carlisle performing on the starboard bow, frontwoman Alaina Moore cooing, “Darling you know I love you,” as her husband Patrick Riley constructs a delicate net of guitars to catch her should she fall.
21. Wye Oak, “Holy Holy”
The repeating grind of guitar that opens this song sounds like a junked car trying to start: determined and defiant, willing itself to life. So it goes throughout this marvelous song from Civilian, the new record from Baltimore duo Wye Oak. It kicks up loud then drops back, glides easily then coughs and pitches, guided along by Jenn Wasner’s sure, steady alto – a voice that sounds like it contains the secrets of the universe, but is choosing to mete them out one by one.
22. The Joy Formidable, “Whirring”
The Joy Formidable live in London, but you’ll find no trace of stereotypical British reserve in their music. Loose, wild and unhinged, their songs are typhoons of sound – the perfect combination of great scraping guitars and Ritzy Bryan’s honeyed croon. “Whirring” detonates like the best Nineties radio anthems, piling crescendo upon crescendo until the sound is mountainous and imposing. Is it any wonder Dave Grohl is such a fan?
23. Le Butcherettes, “I’m Queen”
Down, dirty and dingy, the Butcherettes are the kind of band that you’d find carousing at the dirty end of a dive bar at four a.m. on a Monday. “I’m Queen” is almost defiantly rudimentary – a few barbed wire punk rock guitars, loose and sloppy percussion and breathy vocals delivered by the kind of femme fatale who’d sooner stab you than kiss you.
24. Disappears, “Halo”
Disappears nick their stern, chugging rhythms from krautrock and their glaze of guitars from Haight-Ashbury. Smearing the two together creates a terrific tension – like a gallon of grape jam oozing down a straight white picked fence. The lyrics are comprised of just a handful of phrases, all of them shouted again and again and again, like a panicked hypnotist trying in vain to wake his long-gone subject from their trance.
25. Phantogram, “Mouthful of Diamonds”
As curvy as a question mark and as soft and pristine as a room full of feathers, this twinkling number from New York’s Phantogram alternates between pity and scorn, using its gentle melody to reach out to a friend who is slipping beyond redemption. Sounding at times like Beach House after a good night’s sleep, “Mouthful of Diamonds” is a moody, moving masterpiece.