In anticipation of this summer’s upcoming Rock the Garden, Walker Marketing Intern Samantha Sacks created a playlist that aims to capture the spirit of the festival’s unique lineup. These are twenty songs, both classic and contemporary, from the ten musical acts that will take the stage in July. From Afrobeat to psychedelic pop, this year’s Rock the Garden lineup offers a wide variety of sounds. Whether it’s the fresh faced newcomers or the seasoned pros, the festival seems to cater to folks young and old, with something for everyone finding their way to the garden this year.
“Float On” has been a massively popular hit since it was released over ten years ago. Its quirky anecdotes about life’s hassles and the positive message that “we’ll all float on okay” make this track a bit different from Modest Mouse’s typically darker moods.
In March, the band returned with their first new full-length album in eight years, Strangers to Ourselves. On “Lampshades on Fire,” lead vocalist Isaac Brock adds his classically punchy delivery to a highly danceable post-punk drumbeat. The vocals break down into numerous strands of soft, wordless sound, a technique that also appears all over Good News for People Who Love Bad News.
Like Modest Mouse, Scottish indie-pop outfit Belle and Sebastian have had a long career, spanning nearly 20 years. This year, they are back with their ninth studio album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance. With a hypnotic ’80s synth-pop vibe, “The Party Line” is a perfect tune for any dance party.
“Lazy Line Painter Jane,” the title-track from their 1997 EP, is a classic of Belle & Sebastian’s early material. The song has the hazy groove of classic ’60s psych, along with the lo-fi pop genius of the ’80s Flying Nun discography.
Babes in Toyland
Local punk legends Babes In Toyland have also stood the test of time. They recently reunited for the first time in fourteen years. The trio will proudly represent the storied history of the Twin Cities underground this year at Rock the Garden.
“He’s My Thing” is an excellent example of the trio’s feminist subject matter. Lead vocalist Kat Bjelland screams and growls, “He’s my thing, stay away from my thing.” Clearly inspired by Patti Smith, Bjelland’s stark lyricism and vocals are totally unapologetic. Michelle Leon’s dark yet groovy bass line weaves prominently through the song.
One of the band’s most well-known songs, “Bruise Violet,” was thought to be about Bjelland’s grunge rival, Courtney Love, who almost joined the band early on in its formation. Although Bjelland denies these rumors, it’s certainly an angry song.
Seun Kuti, son of Nigerian afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, has led his late father’s band, Egypt 80, since he was 14 years old. Egypt 80 and many of its original members have remained together since its formation around 1980. Their latest album, A Long Way to the Beginning, takes cues from the afrobeat sounds Seun grew up with, yet manages to avoid coming off like an exercise in nostalgia.
Like all of the band’s material, “African Airways” has an incredibly funky rhythm that will undoubtedly get the whole Garden dancing.
The rhythms of each instrument in “African Solider” seem to be very complex. However, they somehow come together as a very cohesive whole. Like much of Kuti’s catalog, his lyrics here are very political, exploring Nigeria’s deep history of militarism and corruption.
The influence of rockabilly and early soul music on J.D. McPherson is very apparent. “Let The Good Times Roll” will take you from 2015 to a 1950s prom. This track is a fun homage to the sound of the early rock n’ roll era McPherson admires so much. He still manages to give the song a modern twist with a guitar solo that nearly explodes in punk rock energy.
“North Side Gal” tells the story of how he and everyone else is “crazy about a North Side gal.” McPherson’s vocals are incredibly soulful, reminiscent of rockabilly greats like Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
Prolific singer-songwriter Conor Oberst has been involved in many different bands over the years, but he is best known for founding the legendary indie-folk outfit Bright Eyes. Recently, Oberst has been focusing on his solo career, releasing music under his own name and also with Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band.
“Cape Canaveral” is just one example of Oberst’s talent for heartbreaking lyricism and unclassifiable arrangements.
“Zigzagging Toward the Light” stays true to Oberst’s folk roots, with sliding guitar melodies reminiscent of the cowboy psychedelia of Lee Hazlewood and the Grateful Dead. The song ends with a furious, distorted solo, proving Oberst has the firepower to melt a festival crowd’s collective face.
Courtney Barnett has received much praise and attention from critics with the release of her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I just Sit. The Aussie slacker-rock goddess is anything but lazy when it comes to songwriting.
“Avant Gardener” exemplifies Barnett’s offbeat humor and surreal lyricism. She sings of her attempt to be productive by gardening, which is foiled when she ends up having an asthma attack. The song is comical, with references to Uma Thurman’s character in Pulp Fiction and clever rhymes like “Anaphylactic and super hypocondriactic.” Yet, there is also honest vulnerability in this song, as Barnett admits that she would much “prefer the mundane.”
With self-deprecating lyrics like, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,” and “I’m a fake, I’m a phony, I’m awake, I’m alone, I’m homely, I’m a Scorpio,” it’s clear that Barnett isn’t trying to impress anyone. “Pedestrian at Best,” with its stream of consciousness lyricism, reveals her insecurities and inability to make up her mind. Its dark humor is met by powerful guitar riffs that seem to ramp up over and over again.
Indie pop band Lucius consists of frontwomen Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, who sing in perfect unison and perform in matching outfits. They are another newer band in this year’s Rock the Garden lineup. They made waves with their 2014 debut album, Wildewoman. Coincidentally, their album artwork, the 1964 painting Ice Cream by Belgian pop artist Evelyne Axell, is featured in the Walker’s International Pop Exhibition.
“Turn It Around” is a punchy pop gem with strong singing from Wolfe and Laessig. Their harmonies are tight, showing off the duo’s remarkable vocal control.
“Two of Us on the Run” is a stunning combination of Wolf and Laessig’s delicate vocal harmonies and two hauntingly beautiful acoustic guitars.
Ghost of a Sabertooth Tiger, or GOASTT, is the duo of Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon. The band has been active since around 2008, but only recently did they release their first full length album, Midnight Sun. With parents John Lennon and Yoko Ono, it is easy to understand where Sean gets his musical and artistic chops. Not straying too far away from his Beatle father, Sean and Charlotte blend folk with a heady serving of ’60s psych-pop.
It is hard to not hear John Lennon’s iconic tone in Sean’s singing, and on the track, “Animals,” Muhl’s voice compliments it with a more ethereal sound.
It only seems fitting to include a song about a famous garden. “Jardin Du Luxembourg” is the opening track of their 2011 EP, La Carotte Bleue. Sean and Charlotte sing delicate harmonies together throughout the entire song, pausing only for a short guitar solo.
Thestand4rd is Bobby Raps, Allan Kingdom, Psymun, and Corbin (formerly Spooky Black): a local super group of rappers, singers and producers who have joined forces to create songs that lie somewhere in between rap and indie R&B.
“Simple Needs” soothes us with the soft, melodic croons of Corbin and Allan Kingdom.
“Binoculars” is more rap-heavy than “Simple Needs.” Boasting about the group’s DIY roots, Allan Kingdom raps about how they’re all just some “kids with computers.” The beats and melodies that producer Psymun crafts are darkly smooth, creating a doubly eerie and enveloping atmosphere.
Rock the Garden has made it a tradition to showcase local favorites alongside national and international acts. Local acts like Thestan4rd and Babes in Toyland highlight the Cities’ deeply rooted DIY ethic, while acts such as Lucius and Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 exemplify some of the freshest currents in contemporary independent music.
The artists of Rock the Garden 2015 share a common disregard for barriers of genre and a willingness to follow their own muse, wherever it might take them. The result is a gratifying, challenging, and remarkably eclectic array of musical output that deserves to be experienced in person.