With forays into Afrobeat, “zombie jazz” and psychedelic soul on his résumé, alongside stints with Vampire Weekend and Twin Shadow, Adam Schatz is like the Brooklyn version of Danger Mouse, a musical chameleon who puts a signature stamp on whatever oddly shaped venture he’s involved in. But for a man of such avant-leaning tastes, his own art-rock project, Landlady, isn’t nearly as knotty as you might expect. The group’s most recent album, Upright Behavior, is stuffed with twinkling pop piano, jangly guitar and soaring hooks, albeit with the occasional synth freakout—think a slightly more psychedelic Walkmen with a dash of Tune-Yards mayhem. If it were Schatz’s only project, it’d be impressive enough, but it’s just another successful effort from a dude who also plays free-jazz saxophone in his spare time. TREE PALMEDO. 12:45 pm Aug. 16.
Plenty of Gen Y artists are now reacquainting themselves with the mainstream pop of their youth, making music that taps into a foggy nostalgia for ’90s FM radio. But there’s nothing foggy about Shy Girls’ crystal-clear interpretation of the past. Instead of reproducing the feel of twisting a staticky radio dial, their music invokes memories of walking through a mall or riding in an elevator circa 1991. And while it shares traits with the dreamy, lightheaded R&B of Frank Ocean and the Weeknd, the group engages its influences with a lot more honesty. “Blue-eyed soul” is the hipper nomenclature, but if you were to use the term “easy listening” to describe it, the band wouldn’t take offense. MATTHEW SINGER. 1:35 pm Aug. 16.
As a child, Stephen Bruner had two favorite toys: a plastic ThunderCats sword and a bass guitar. That’s how intertwined the 27-year-old musician, who records spaced-out R&B under the name Thundercat, is with his instrument. He’s a virtuoso, to be sure, but one who places melody and atmosphere above braining the listener with a torrent of notes. After years of supporting everyone from Erykah Badu and Snoop Dogg to Suicidal Tendencies, Bruner took off as a solo musician after meeting electronic music producer Steven Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, who co-produced both 2011’s The Golden Age of Apocalypse and last year’s Apocalypse, lending his cinematic eye to records blending ’70s jazz fusion, stargazing soul and ambient electronica into a head-tripping cosmic swirl. MATTHEW SINGER. 2:25 pm Aug. 16.
Gardens & Villa
With the blogosphere compressing time and trends like some divine piston, the music of the past becomes the inevitability of the future. In the case of Gardens and Villa, the group’s retro blend of New Wave sonics and dream-pop melodies would feel just as vital in a hazy club scene on the show Looking as they would in the background of a Bret Easton Ellis film adaptation. On this year’s Dunes, this Santa Barbara quintet employs the contrast between unaffected synth patterns, metronomic grooves and the yearning of vocalist Chris Lynch to create a glistening mirage of a pristine yet unattainable future world. They may not be from L.A., exactly, but you’ll find no better distillation of the chilly isolation a night on the town can evoke than this group’s finely polished dance-pop anthems. PETE COTTELL. 3:25 pm Aug. 16.
Four records into its career, Man Man has finally crested the plateau of diligent weirdness inhabited by the likes of Ween and They Might Be Giants. There’s little common ground between either of the aforementioned cult heroes and the Philadelphia quartet’s frantic, cartoon-villain entrance music, but the compatibility of the group’s transgressive hobo waltzes for the average festival attendee is higher than one would expect. The band’s acclaimed second record, Six Demon Bag, is stocked to the brim with kitchen-sink instrumentation and wobbly, organ-grinder melodies. Singer Honus Honus managed to avoid the treachery of channeling Tom Waits purely as a shortcut to rock-critic relevance, and on calling-card tracks like “Engwish Bwudd” and “Spider Cider” you can practically smell the wax dripping off his mustache. The Snidely Whiplash aesthetic has been sanded down over time, but 2013’s On Oni Pond still makes plenty of room for Honus’ deranged croaking over more grandiose arrangements. You’re likely to hear the lead single “Head On” sandwiched between Beirut and the National on the Pandora feed at your local coffee shop, which is plenty of reason to stick it out while you wait for the beer line to die down momentarily. PETE COTTELL. 4:25 pm Aug. 16.
If you’re a cool kid starting a garage band in the American Northeast, you buy some synths, or if you can’t afford a fancy Roland or even a cheap MIDI rig, you go punk. But the Districts, who first came together as high-schoolers in Lititz, Pa., did neither. Their self-titled EP, the band’s first on Mississippi’s Fat Possum Records, is built on harmonica, organ and twanging guitar, on songs that mourn lost loves but aren’t afraid to rock out. With anthems aplenty, the Districts manage to sound classic without sounding stale. Not bad for four guys raised north of the Mason-Dixon line (albeit by just a few hundred miles). TREE PALMEDO. 12:45 pm Aug. 17.
Modern Kin is the sound of Portland songwriter Drew Grow hitting the reset button on his career. It may not look much different from his previous band, the Pastors Wives—drummer Jeremiah Hayden and bassist Kris Doty were members of that project—but it is an entirely new group, with an entirely new working philosophy. It is more complex, but it’s also more direct, more visceral, and just plain weirder. On its self-titled debut, Grow wails like a doomsday preacher over shuddering church organ and roaring rock guitars, sounding something like Arcade Fire’s Win Butler doing Nick Cave’s big bad wolf routine. He sounds possessed. In truth, he’s just re-engaged. MATTHEW SINGER. 1:35 pm Aug. 17.
There’s nothing all that wild about Wild Ones. If you’re looking for truth in advertising, Keep It Safe, the title of the quartet’s debut album, is a better indicator of what to expect from the 3-year-old group’s romantic, richly detailed electro-acoustic pop. This is music born of careful consideration, not freeform abandon. Golden-glow synths flutter with crystalline grace around subtly employed guitars and light dance beats, like Beach House shaken out of its love-buzzed haze. It’s starry-eyed, swollen-hearted and totally controlled. But keeping it safe should not be confused with playing it safe, particularly where singer Danielle Sullivan is concerned. On a record that could’ve gotten by on harmonies and instrumental warmth alone, Sullivan lays herself bare, and her voice—equal parts country twang and faux-Irish brogue—makes earworms like “Golden Twin” and “Curse Over Me” sting with melancholy. MATTHEW SINGER. 3:25 pm Aug. 17.