OK Noise Pop, we see you. The Bay Area’s premier indie music festival went off this year, their 25th Anniversary, releasing a seemingly endless number of lineup announcements, all packed to the brim with the most sparkling talents to release music in the last year, or that will this year.
But despite continuing to expand their assortment, the organizers still have to fit all their offerings into an a certain number of days — which inevitably means conflicts, the bane of every festival-goer’s existence. Because the quality is so uniformly high this year, this might be the single most gut-wrenching Noise Pop ever. For all the badge-holders out there, each day promises more riches than you can carry, which ensures you eight days of incredible music, but also means you’ll have to overcome deep pangs of remorse. The stakes are high, and you’ll have to seriously consider your options if you want to optimize your experience.
The Bay Bridged is here to help, as best we can, by streamlining the schedule and positing where you might want to end up, given your own individual tastes. If there’s an artist you don’t know, hopefully this breakdown can get you in tune ahead of time so you don’t discover them too late. If you like two artists equally, then we can help you consider which show is more worthwhile given the openers, venue, and context. Look ahead for our assessment of the conflicts by day, excluding February 20 and 27, where your only choices are Cloud Nothings and Ty Segall, respectively.
Hazel English is one of Oakland’s brightest talents, a transplant from Australia whose meditative dream rock — somewhere between Real Estate and Waxahatchee — is one of the most easily likable sounds in music. She’s the artist you might not know to regret not choosing immediately after the festival, but five years from now, you’ll kick yourself for missing. However, if you’d prefer your soft pop a bit less contemporary, then you should go with Weyes Blood, whose reverberating vocal-centered compositions radiate a crisp warmth. She’s performing at Swedish American Music Hall, a little wooden cabin in the middle of a metropolis. That’s not a bad thing, at least not in the right context, such as when you want to see an intuitive talent up close without any distracting production; their voice amplified as much by the room’s acoustics as by the itty-bitty sound system. Weyes Blood will be stunning in that venue, as will her opener Half Waif’s vulnerable, icy pop.
You’ll find the most beauty on your second night of Noise Pop attending one of the two aforementioned shows, but if iridescent female vocalists aren’t your thing, then you can find something a bit stockier at The Fillmore, where Dawes will be performing two sets littered with choice cuts from across their catalog as part of their “An Evening With Dawes” tour. The band treats every time out on the road as special, but this time it still feels just a little extra special. Even if you aren’t a fan yet, Dawes are notoriously locked-in live, and their sets are likely your best bet for eliciting goosebumps this evening. There’s also Electric Guest, who make white-boy R&B that is awkwardly endearing — if that’s your thing, more power to you, but I’d default elsewhere given the sheer scale of musicianship available on Tuesday.
Diet Cig is the most exciting name on Wednesday, both in terms of their music eliciting a sense of eagerness and in a long-gestating industry buzz finally on the cusp of breaking out completely. The 20-something duo sing of handling the complexities of adulthood, or at least of trying to figure out exactly what “adulthood” means. They draw a thread across all ages in proving that these anxieties don’t merely exist in one stage of life, but instead only become more pronounced over time. It’s heavy stuff masked in featherweight garage rock by one of the most instantly likable singers of the genre in recent memory.
But if none of that appeals to you, be patient — we’re just getting started. Everything else on Wednesday can generally be split across genre lines, so you can go ahead and make your choice via your mood. You want bluesy pyschdelic rock? Check out the Desert Daze Caravan ensemble assembled over at The Chapel, which includes Temples, Night Beats, and Deap Vally. What about some ramshackle folk? Go with The Rural Alberta Advantage at Bottom of the Hill. The Palms are for the Britpop lovers seeking a more contemporary glow, meanwhile chamber-pop aficionados can flock to a sure-to-be-excellent solo set by Julia Holter. The heaviest option on the lineup this side of Deafheaven comes from Uniform, so act accordingly if you’re after the loudest show possible. Finally, Kelis has covered anyone who likes their pop music snappy and full of swagger.
I’m going to go ahead and call this the most brutal day of Noise Pop’s scheduling. You have the technically proficient, hip-hop influenced jazz ensemble BADBADNOTGOOD, who put on an absolutely hyped-up live show that feels like the most relevant thing happening in the genre today. But you also have Julien Baker, who released a cult classic in 2015’s Sprained Ankle and has defined herself a simple, yet inimitable musical aesthetic that’s inspired by emo and hardcore, yet rooted in tender, piercing folk. You have PWR BTTM, whose concerts are notable safe spaces for identities in need of one, and whose performances are animated displays of passion, proficiency, and glitter. Then still there is Japanese Breakfast, who makes DIY dream-pop emotionally raw yet unabashedly shimmery, as well as Deafheaven, indie metal’s most polarizing yet relevant act. Those are the most essential artists of the day, but it still doesn’t include otherwise would-be must-sees like Melbourne loopologist Tash Sultana and the latest LA iconoclast Kevin Abstract. Wait, have I still not touched on everyone yet? Sheesh.
You won’t be completely satisfied with whatever choice you make tonight. Even being blown away by BADBADNOTGOOD’s sheer virtuosity won’t make it sting any less knowing you passed up on letting your heart openly grieve under Julien Baker. As far as what to consider in order to minimize the inevitable pain, know that you can still see Deafheaven tomorrow if you pass up on them today (although there’s still much to contend with then that we will get to shortly). Julien Baker performed at Noise Pop and Outside Lands last year and will likely be back again when she drops her next album on new label Matador, so either you’ve seen her or will have the opportunity to soon (but you seriously better end up seeing her in some capacity). PWR BTTM and BBNG are going to be the two most unique experiences then that Thursday offers, both in vastly different ways, and you can decide in the moment whether you want more of a neon punk party or a jazzy kickback.
Friday, February 24: Los Campesinos! vs. clipping. vs. Hanni El Khatib vs. Mozart’s Sister vs. Matt Pond PA vs. The Joy Formidable vs. Mothers vs. The Mother Hips vs. Deafheaven vs. Rogue Wave vs. Hudson Mohawke
So begins the Noise Pop weekend! After ruminating over my options for way too many hours, I thought I had finally made my decision for Friday. But then the organizers went ahead and threw a grenade named Hudson Mohawke into my concrete plans. The Kanye West co-signed producer and former half of the brief-but-legendary trap duo TNGHT is going to decimate 1015 Folsom, and now I’m not so sure the tender-yet-colossal grunge folk of Mothers is going to be enough to keep me from wishing I was there to witness the carnage. And that’s all assuming I keep at bay my FOMO over having to skip the punishing resonance of clipping. at Oakland’s Starline Social Club. Truly, there’s not a single place I could plant myself on Friday and not feel in some capacity that I should be elsewhere.
If you have different priorities and couldn’t care less about the above trio of names, then there’s still a great deal left to treat yourself with. The day is dominated predominantly by rock music, coming in a spectrum of shades. There’s the seductive blues of Hanni El Khatib, the unpredictable indie rock of the prolific Matt Pond PA, the power-punk of Los Campesinos!, the indie pop of Rogue Wave, and the post-punk of The Joy Formidable. Could you keep any of that straight? Hopefully you at least get the idea that there are a lot of slightly different types of guitars on this day. I didn’t even get to Deafheaven, who are back again at The Fillmore to throw your entire conception of what a guitar should sound like into orbit, or The Mother Hips, who will not challenge your expectations of guitars in any way. But if you really just can’t stand to hear a guitar tonight, your surest bet for avoiding one will be at Hemlock Tavern with Mozart’s Sister and her left-of-center electropop.
Vince Staples is the only artist on this list that is poised to become one of the defining figures of his genre within the next five to 10 years, and he’s already its most exciting iconoclast. He shows complete disregard for the long-held dogmas of hip-hop, meanwhile staying firmly within its greatest qualities: as a platofrm for speaking lived experience into power, its ability to make menace anthemic, and lyrical density filtered through a populist immediacy. His show at The Fox Theater is another checkpoint on his assured rise, one that also saw him grace the Outside Lands stage last summer. He is, in my opinion, the most exciting name on this whole lineup — if not for the legacy he’s building, then at least for his killer live energy.
I’ll concede that you could skip Staples in good conscience if you decide to see either immensely fun Seattle garage punks Tacocat or noise-rap maestros clipping. Tacocat’s Oakland show has a leg up in that the excellent DIY singer-songwriter Lisa Prank will be opening, and if you were going to see clipping. you probably should have done so the night before when they performed at Starline Social Club rather than at the mediocre Brick and Mortar Music Hall. Most of the other names tonight already have their fan bases well established to the point that I wouldn’t be able to convince you out of it, anyway (nor should I, if that’s where you belong). The Frights with The Garden? MSTRKRFT? If you’re a big fan of either you’ll find your people at these shows. Honorable mention to Adia Victoria, whose gothic blues would be an excellent choice on a less competitive day.
This isn’t how you’re ending Noise Pop — Ty Segall will graciously break a guitar or two for you on your way out tomorrow — but it is your last chance to choose your own fate (amongst the predetermined set of choices, of course). It’s an exceedingly soft day of music, with nothing coming close to rivaling the sheer noise of Deafheaven, clipping., Vince Staples, or Uniform. Instead, you have your pick of what are essentially singer-songwriters, some a bit more eclectic or jammier than the others, and then the revered Modesto space-rock outfit Grandaddy. Let’s first exclude Creeper Lagoon, because the band is also playing a noontime show at Bottom of the Hill you can see them without sacrificing the others. Then pick Grandaddy. Even if you can’t make it to Creeper Lagoon in the morning, pick Grandaddy. Even if every act on this lineup was crammed into one day, Grandaddy should still be in your top three priorities. I’m saying that out of personal preference, but I’m assuming you’re disagreeing out of a lack of enlightenment. So pull up their discography, respect the craft, and then pick Grandaddy.