Every year, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the magical home of bongo-banging hippies, bison, and botany, makes room for the pilgrimage of a couple thousand audiophiles to see their favorite bands in action at the Outside Lands music festival. With 70+ acts on the roster, it can prove daunting to try to sift through all the noise and find what you're looking for. Thankfully for you, I've compiled a nifty little cheat sheet of a few musicians that are worth your time.
TUNE-YARDS (Aug 14 @ 1:15p): If I could only see one musician at Outside Lands, I would easily choose tUnE-YarDs (no Sophie's choice conundrum here). The music project is fronted by Oakland resident, Merrill Garbus, whose striking voice is one of the most original I've heard in a long while. She manipulates her one-of-a-kind pipes and blends them with lively looped percussion, manic horns, bold African rhythms, and so much more. The girl likes to make a racket and I wouldn't think of missing it.
BEST COAST (Aug 12 @ 7:50p): I mused on Best Coast's sun-bleached surf-pop last year and I still want to platonically date lead singer Bethany Cosantino. If you like California, cats, and a girl who's unafraid to wear her faults like jewelry, this is the band for you. If that's not enough to go on, watch the kick-ass video for "Our Deal," directed by none other than Drew Barrymore and starring lots o' celebs, my favorite being Maeby from Arrested Development.
BEIRUT (Aug 14 @ 6:50p): Zach Condon is from New Mexico, but you would never know it by listening to his brainchild, Beirut. Since 2006, he's been heavily coating traditional pop with the best that Eastern Europe and specifically the Balkans have to offer. The product is a folksy, catchy trip around the world. No passport required.
MGMT (Aug 12 @ 4:35p): MGMT blew up in 2007 with their highly infectious singles, "Kids" and "Electric Feel." It's quite possible you've drunkenly said "I love this song!" while cutting a rug to either of the two, so their set will probably be a ton of fun. The way I see it: anyone who can convince Joanna Newsom to play a haughty, careless mother in a music video is ok by me.
ERYKAH BADU (Aug 12 @ 7:50p): Do I really have to sell you on Erykah Badu? She does what she wants without apology, her voice is soulful to the max, and one of her recent singles was all about wanting the window seat on a flight cause she "don't want nobody next to me." And, in the music video for that song, she walks around Dallas while disrobing until she's shot in the same spot of JFK's assassination. If all of that is anything to go by, her live set will be something you would be a fool to miss.
WYE OAK (Aug 14 @ 5:30p): Wye Oak is a dreamy indie-folk outfit out of Baltimore, comprised of Jenn Wasner, who plays guitar and sings, and Andy Stack, who plays drums with his feet and right hand while playing keyboards with his left. I'm newly converted, but I love what I've heard so far. Get a taste of their sound above.
TORO Y MOI (Aug 12 @ 3:50P): Toro y Moi is the stage name of Chazwick Bundick, a half-Filipino, half-African American 24 year old from South Carolina. He's considered one of the best representations of the chillwave movement, a.k.a music characterized by heavy use of synths, looping, samples, and effects. It'll be interesting to see how he recreates all the intricately arranged ambience of his records in a live setting.
MAJOR LAZER (Aug 14 @ 4:40p): Major Lazer is a collaborative effort by DJ/producers Diplo (best known for his work with M.I.A.) and Switch. If you've heard Beyonce's latest single "Run the World (Girls)," then you are already familiar with their work, as the song heavily samples their single "Pon de Floor." If you like booty jams and getting low, you won't want to miss this.
GIRL TALK (Aug 13 @ 8:40p): Girl Talk is renowned for ridiculous mash-ups. Gregg Michael Gillis, the man behind the project, will take dozens of your favorite songs and tie them together in ways you never dreamed of. You never know what he'll throw at you next and that element of surprise is worth paying him a visit.
THE SHINS (Aug 12 @ 8:40p): You're probably already familiar with the Shins, even if you only know them from the Garden State soundtrack (no judgment here). To be honest, I've stopped following them and haven't heard any of their new music. But their first two albums, Chutes Too Narrow and Oh, Inverted World, were such great pop records -- dominating my shower-singing for much of 2005 -- that I owe it to my younger self to check in. You probably do too.
ARCADE FIRE (Aug 14 @ 8:10p): The festival culminates in Arcade Fire's night show. When these Canucks won Album of the Year at last year's Grammys, most of America let out a collective "WHO?" Regardless of the musical ignorance of those wading in the mainstream, Arcade Fire has been at it for quite some time, quietly producing solid album after solid album, and now they're finally getting the attention they always deserved. Their set is bound to be sardine-level packed so avoid it if you can't handle a crowd.
Outside Lands runs from August 12th-14th, 2011 in Golden Gate Park. For tickets and information, visit SFOutsideLands.com