Whether you prefer classic R&B or shimmering electro-pop, there’s something at this year’s Outside Lands festival to satisfy every taste. Get ready for San Francisco’s most eclectic festival with this 25-track playlist.
1. The Shins, “Phantom Limb”
Refamiliarize yourself with New Mexico’s finest export with a song that showcases everything they do best, hitching a gently idling melody to twinkling guitars and allowing them to glide along, lovely and lazily, in tandem.
2. The Original Meters, “Cissy Strut”
It’s identifiable from that first twang of guitar, hot as a frying pan in a Louisiana kitchen. “Cissy Strut” never explodes, just simmers, but that’s all it needs to do. That wriggling guitar works its way under your skin slowly and, before you know it, you’re bobbing and weaving right along with it.
3. MGMT, “Brian Eno”
Not nearly as difficult as it was made out to be, MGMT’s sophomore effort may have backed away from the neon-like synthpop gems that characterized their debut, but it replaced them with revved-up psych-punk songs like this one. An ode to the legendary producer and onetime Roxy Music keyboard player, “Brian Eno” is a jittery nervous wreck of a song that turns a rock legend’s name into an unlikely hook.
4. Erykah Badu, “The Healer”
This dusky, mysterious number from New AmErykah Part 1 slithers up like a snake from a straw basket. Grounded in a dank Rasta groove and offset by an eerie snatch of tribal chanting, “The Healer” feels more like Erykah is casting a spell than singing a song. “Hip-hop is bigger than religion,” she promises in her ghostlike voice. The subtle power of this song is all the convincing you need.
5. Best Coast, “Each & Every Day”
Bethany Cosentino gained attention for her summery updates on the classic girl group template, but this track shows she’s just as good at sleek punk rock. Setting the kind of cooing vocals that characterized the best Blondie songs against a gnarled and racing bit of riffage, “Each and Every Day” gets Best Coast off the beach and into the garage.
6. Foster the People, “Pumped Up Kicks”
The bassline in the background of “Pumped Up Kicks” tiptoes along like a cat burgler, light and sneaky and unobtrusive. Other dance acts try to ground their song in a steady groove, but Los Angeles outfit Foster the People opt for a slyer approach, putting emphasis on a playground-style chorus and letting the low end chug along quietly in the shadows. The result is as mild and refreshing as a spring breeze, dance music by suggestion rather than insistence.
7. The Joy Formidable, “I Don’t Want to See You Like This”
There are few voices better suited to sing this song than Ritzy Bryan’s. Capable of sounding determined and distraught all at once, her delivery is the soul of this dizzying corkscrew of a song from Welsh outfit the Joy Formidable. Packing all of the potency of vintage L7 into their grand, pealing chords, the Joys perfectly capture the tumultuous sound of healing.
8. Orgone, “Cali Fever”
Blending Afrobeat and Seventies funk into one bubbling, spicy stew, San Francisco natives Orgone provide the kind of summer soundtrack a festival like Outside Lands requires. They’re retro, but not self-consciously so: Those bleary horns and percolating organs could come from a whiskey lounge in any era, and the easy-to-learn, way-in-the-background gang vocals only make this ‘Fever’ more contagious.
9. The Roots, “Right On”
Cribbing a vocal sample from chanteuse Joanna Newsom and dropping it in the middle of a hip-hop track sounds like the basis for an awkward art project, but leave it to the Roots – one of the most consistently creative and forward-thinking bands in music – to make such an improbable combination work. Her craggy incantation circles around Black Thought’s beautifully blunt verses like a tiny angel spiraling around the head of a punchdrunk prizefighter.
10. Ximena Sariñana, “Mediocre”
She’s only 25, but Ximena Sarinana has already netted a Latin Grammy, and will play Outside Lands just 10 days after the release of her self-titled second record, which is poised to broaden her audience and raise her profile. “Mediocre,” the Spanish-language title track of her previous outing, is a good indication why. With pipes that rival Fiona Apple at her fieriest, Sarinana is just one Gossip Girl placement away from Stateside success.
11. The Vaccines, “Wreckin’ Ball (Ra Ra Ra)
British breakouts the Vaccines need only 80 seconds to make an impression on this single, which nods slyly to the Ramones’ “Rockaway Beach,” but buries that song’s sneering “Rah-Rah-Rah”s underneath buckets of reverb. This is the sound of teenagers tearing through the streets after dark, stealing everything they can get their hands on.
12. Old 97s, “Rollerskate Skinny”
It’s hard to determine the true nature of the protagonist in this crackling bit of power pop from enduring Texans Old 97s. The song opens with frontman Rhett Miller bemoaning their behavior, but as the song goes on, he warms to her, his affection as clear and resonant as the glimmering notes from his guitar. At the end of the song they’re both sunk, but at least they go down together. Friends like these, right?
13. Arctic Monkeys, “She’s Thunderstorms”
The ominous opening track form the Arctic Monkeys’ latest album is aptly named: It rolls in slow and dark, driven by a crackling minor-key guitar arpeggio and Alex Turner’s moaning vocals before erupting with a bang in the chorus. The song tells the tale of a woman whose very presence is calamity, and Turner couches the description in such strange turns-of-phrase (“Her motorcycle boots give me this kind of acrobatic blood,” for example) that she quickly assumes a power that feels supernatural.
14. Girl Talk, “Still Here”
When the Procul Harum wrote the funereal, Bach-derived organ intro to “Whiter Shade of Pale” 50 years ago, it’s unlikely they ever intended it to soundtrack the Youngbloodz yelling, “If you don’t give a damn, we don’t give a fuck!” But the unlikely cross-breed is what Gregg Gillis, aka Girl Talk, does best; “Still Here” manages to fuse “No Diggity,” “The Weight,” Cassidy and Ace of Base for a floor-filler that – quite literally – has something for everyone.
15. The Black Keys, “Tighten Up”
Though it shares a title with a classic Archie Bell R&B single, “Tighten Up” doesn’t groove so much as amble. Its loose bass strut and looping organ conjure the image of someone, as Hank Williams once put it, “Walkin’ down the road, feelin’ bad.” Dan Auerbach’s pleading verse about being sick and lonesome only amplifies the feeling.
16. Muse, “Resistance”
No band does CinemaScope rock and roll quite like Muse. Lines like “Love is our resistance” might sound hokey coming from anyone else, but Muse main man Matt Bellamy knows what it takes to deliver a line like that – you don’t whisper it; you close your eyes and throw your whole body into it. To support him, he’s got a pirouetting piano, butcher-block guitars and a stack of vocal harmonies that would have impressed Freddie Mercury. With that kind of backup, even the simplest verse sounds like a manifesto.
17. Fresh & Onlys, “Strange Disposition”
This rollicking, wild-eyed number from the excellent San Francisco band the Fresh & Onlys drags country music into the garage, taking a galloping backbeat and Wild West bassline and slathering them in reverb. This is the music gangs in the Fifties – that is, the 1850s – would listen to before heading out for a night of hellraising.
18. Ty Segall, “Girlfriend”
With a snarl and a racecar riff, Ty Segall lays out all that is great about his beloved: she loves him, she holds him, she lets him borrow her car. What more could a punk want? “Girlfriend” has the swagger of Richard Hell and the rowdy insistence of the Runaways. It’s as sweet and as tough as a heart-shaped tattoo.
19. Tune-Yards, “Es-So”
Merrill Garbus’s voice is the primary instrument in this clattering song from the latest Tune-Yards album, Who Kill. Her voice is captured and cut up and looped around barbed-wire guitar and jazz-club standup bass. No matter how many other instruments enter the mix, her voice always trumps them like a sonic game of paper-rock-scissors. “I run over my own body with my own car,” Garbus hoots at one point. Even if that were true, her voice would certainly emerge unscathed.
20. Charles Bradley, “No Time for Dreaming”
You can hear the urgency in Charles Bradley’s voice as he belts out the title to this crackling R&B anthem. With a doff of the Stetson to both James Brown and Otis Redding, Bradley and the Menahan Street Band deliver a potent batch of classic soul that encourages action over daydreaming – allowing Bradley plenty of opportunity to punctuate the sentiment with a few throat-searing screams.
21. Josh Ritter, “Change of Time”
Josh Ritter has a dream he’s adrift in the ocean in this moving folk ballad from his 2010 album So Runs the Way, hearing far-off sirens and watching helplessly as the drifters who have gone before him sink into the deep. The song builds slowly, as each verse makes it clear that what Ritter is singing about isn’t a nautical voyage, but the passage of time. In its final moments it swells spectacularly, with cymbals crashing and guitars pealing as Ritter moves past “the whitecaps of memory” in search of peace.
22. Beirut, “La Llorona”
This mournful number from Beirut’s 2009 album March of the Zapotec sounds the kind of song you might hear in a Polish art film. A brass band that seems to have as many members as the smallest Eastern Bloc nation blasts out a sullen, swaying melody as Zach Condon croons a tender melody about love and loss in a small town. By the time the oboe steals the song away after the first verse, you can almost visualize the villagers dancing in black and white.
23. The Decemberists, “Down By the Water”
Colin Meloy and company may have taken a much-needed break from the concept-record constructs that restrained their last two records, but that doesn’t mean their operating with no respect to theme. Their gorgeous new effort, The King is Dead, owes an acknowledged debt to both classic country as well as to R.E.M., the latter of whom feel like their waiting in the wings of this turbulent number. With a slight nod to the alt-rock forefathers’ “The One I Love,” the Decemberists craft a song as dark and arresting as any that inspired them.
24. Arcade Fire, “Rococo”
Leave it to Arcade Fire to take an 18th century style of painting and turn it into a pop hook. Win Butler rolls the syllables of “rococo” with an auctioneer’s panache, employing the term to describe stuck-up music snobs and uber-hip elitists who place unreasonable expectations on pop art. This would be hopelessly heady, but Butler and crew deliver this takedown over a musical backdrop that pitches and heaves like a storm-tossed ship, making the barbed verses feel that much more urgent.
25. !!!, “Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass”
A dark, limber dancefloor epic, “Jamie” opens with a bassline that stretches and snaps like a slingshot as vocalist Nic Offer huffs and hiccups on top of it. Like most !!! songs, it doesn’t stay in one place; it may open as a limber disco sendup, but it crests in a hazy psych crescendo during which Offer says, “I like this part right here, I think it should go on,” immediately after which the groove rockets back into place. Clearly, !!! follow no one’s instructions – not even their own.