1. Azealia Banks
Stylish, raunchy, and smug—and spitting rhymes like a machine gun one minute then lilting ethereally into an interlude the next—Harlem’s Azealia Banks has landed on everyone’s radar. She even played at Karl Lagerfeld’s house—and he gave her a sweater. Her single “212” landed on dozens of 2011’s year-end best-of lists and her feuds with fellow up-and-coming rappers Iggy Azalea and Kreayshawn have practically cemented her name in music blog headlines—and she hasn’t even dropped her first EP yet. Though that too will happen soon: her debut EP, 1991, lands next week and a full-length album, Broke With Expensive Taste, drops later this year.
Key Track: “212”
Anthony Gonzalez’s ’80s-infused blend of synth-pop sounds like it comes straight from Messier 83, the 15 million-lightyears-away spiral galaxy the group’s named after. Desert-goers will be treated to songs from last year’s critically acclaimed Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, including tracks like “Steve McQueen,” a glittering, swirling masterpiece with a pulse compelling enough to make whole arenas swoon. As for “Midnight City,” two words: saxophone solo.
Key Track: “Midnight City”
3. Jeff Mangum
Jeff Mangum has been called the J.D. Salinger of indie rock. Shortly after releasing the dazzlingly brilliant In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, in 1999, his second of only two albums with Neutral Milk Hotel, he disappeared into seclusion and was never heard from again—until late last year, when the folk-rock singer quietly emerged from behind his urban myth status and started playing shows again. All the weirdly cryptic stories about two-headed circus freaks, Anne Frank, and ghosts were suddenly being played onstage again, in locales as random as a Baltimore church and the middle of an Occupy Wall Street crowd. His performance this weekend at Coachella, his first concert on the West Coast in more than a decade, is bound to turn into something of a religious experience for Neutral Milk Hotel fans, who often sing in unison to every lyric, like a backing choir for his wiry, urgent voice and the French horn and saw—yes, the kind you cut wood with, played with a violin bow—that often accompany him, as in this performance of “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.”
Key Track: “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”
“Fuck California, you made me boring” is how Erika M. Anderson (EMA) begins her hypnotic, confessional sing-talk track “California.” With dark and enrapturing lyrics that read like poetry and heavy electric screeches that ground her into a solid alt-rock sound, the South Dakota native’s bringing a spellbinding element to the desert with tracks from her critically praised sophomore album, Past Life Martyred Saints.
Key Track: “California”
In 2007, French electronic dance duo Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay debuted their band Justice with a Grammy-nominated album, †, and the gleeful, infectious disco track “D.A.N.C.E.” Their follow-up to †, last year’s Audio, Visual, Disco is packed with enough arena-size theatrics and electro-rave-ready blowouts to guarantee their set will be just about the most exhilarating dance mob in the desert this weekend. Of course, Justice will be but one of many electronic acts at Coachella; other notable acts include Avicii, with his explosively popular hit “Levels” and its clever sampling of Etta James’s “Something’s Got a Hold on Me.”
Key Track: “Civilization”
6. Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg
An order of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg (a rarity in itself) with a side of Wiz Khalifa, Eminem, and Warren G will be served up to Coachella goers as the ultimate festival finale Sunday night. As an extra treat, the late Nate Dogg will apparently accompany his old boys on stage in the form of a hologram (yes, a hologram) as they crank out ’90s gangsta-rap classics. Though with more than five hip-hop titans on stage, it’s hard to predict exactly which tracks will boom out into the night. We’re counting on a lowrider-bouncing “Still D.R.E.” and hoping for a rendition of Warren G’s “Regulate” featuring the holographic ghost of Nate Dogg.
Key Track: “Still D.R.E.”
7. Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean, of the manic hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All, was arguably the best new R&B act to emerge last year. His intimate brand of disillusioned hip-hop has already attracted the attention of megastars like Beyonce (he co-wrote the song “I Miss You” from her newest album, 4) and Jay-Z and Kanye West (who featured him on last year’s Watch the Throne). Nostalgia, Ultra, his 2011 mixtape, showcases an immense talent for atmosphere and emotive storytelling, a profound admiration for even non-hip-hop acts like Radiohead and Coldplay, and a strong taste for cult classic films and video games (Eyes Wide Shut, Ghost, “Final Fantasy,” “Street Fighter,” and more are sampled or referenced to)—and all with a voice that can alternately melt, impassion, or dazzle audiences.
Key Track: “Novacane”
Rising to fame on the same Britpop wave that brought us Oasis, Suede, and Blur, this newly reunited outfit has been attacking and dominating recent shows with a most desirable mix of passionately renewed vigor and decades of experience. Pulp recently hit Late Night With Jimmy Fallon’s music stage for its first U.S. performance in 14 years, and frontman Jarvis Cocker let loose all the wiry, twitchy charm he’s known for, boding well for the band’s set at Coachella.
Key Track: “Common People”
Alt-rock heroes and Coachella headliners Radiohead are veterans of the festival circuit and consistently deliver amazing live performances. Though their latest effort, King of Limbs, was not as widely praised as their 2008 masterpiece In Rainbows, it did yield several worthwhile live songs, including “Lotus Flower”—if only because every time Thom Yorke gears up to sing it, we hope he whips out a bowler hat and does the singularly bizarre dance he performed for its music video.
Key Track: “Lotus Flower”
10. Laura Marling
English folk singer Laura Marling emerged out of the same London folk scene that brought Mumford and Sons and Noah and the Whale to the public eye. (She used to be a member of Noah and the Whale and dated Marcus Mumford for a time as well.) Though she’s only 22, she’s already put out three full-length albums and sings with a kind of Joni Mitchell-like agelessness. So it’s a stretch of the imagination to attribute the knowing, world-weary voice on songs like “Sophia” to the youthful, almost childlike face that shows up on stage to channel it—but that’s just part of what makes her fascinating.
Key Track: “Sophia”
11. The Weeknd
Another immense R&B talent that emerged last year, Canadian Abel Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, makes his U.S. live debut at Coachella this year. “Crooning” doesn’t begin to describe his honey-smooth voice, whether it’s describing his own self-sabotaging tendencies or a hedonistic overnight drug haze. Powered solely off his self-released free trilogy of albums, House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence, The Weeknd has earned a big-font spot on Coachella’s Sunday lineup—oh, and a series of collaborations with a guy called Drake.
Key Track: “Wicked Games”
12. Wild Flag
Carrie Brownstein, formerly of Sleater-Kinney and star of the hit IFC sketch comedy series Portlandia, fronts this indie supergroup of sorts, which also includes Sleater-Kinney bandmate Janet Weiss, Mary Timony of Helium, and the Minders’ Rebecca Cold. Together, the group has been around less than two years but has already released an acclaimed eponymous debut full of blistering, urgent throwback garage punk. The album calls for the return of committed fandom in an Internet age of listener dilettantism and yearns for real connections between artists and listeners. “We love the sound / The sound is what found us / The sound is the blood between me and you,” Brownstein sings on “Romance,” one of the album’s singles. However lofty their goals, the high energy of their sets make for a great live show.
Key Track: “Romance”
13. Death Grips
From the schizophrenic, pitch-dark track “Guillotine” to the paganistic “Beware,” the slow-flowing art-rap coming from Death Grips isn’t the stuff usually found on the roster of a major label like Epic Records, home of the Shakiras and Good Charlottes of the world. But with not one but two albums coming out this year, a relentless touring schedule, and a guy who can go as apeshit on his drum set as Zach Hill does, the group’s no fluke. Vocalist Stephen Burnett raps like a man who barely cares that he’s teetering on the edge of insanity, and songs are filled with firelight, blood, smoke, and paranoia—and it’s utterly fascinating.
Key Track: “Guillotine”