While, say, 90 percent of this year's lineup features bands we figured we would see sooner rather than later, we never thought Bonobo was coming to town, SoundLand or otherwise. And we're not going to lie: We did a whole lot of jumping and shouting when we found out this UK chill-out champion was on the festival lineup. Hell, we're still bouncing off the walls. This dude has been one our favorite electronic artists for the better part of the decade, banging out sophisticated, worldly future jazz. Bonobo's music is the intellectual antidote to the knuckle-dragging, glowstick-clusterfucking bro-tastic contemporary dance scene. With an ear for smooth hooks, deep, soulful bass lines and dynamic, shifting rhythms, Bonobo's transcontinental funk is some of the best on the planet.
But don't sleep on the Thursday night undercard — Ziggurat and Treekeeper are some of the city's newest, freshest electronic artists. Experimental hip-hoppers Ziggurat make what we like to call "smooth glitch," landing somewhere in between tweaked-out experimentalism and good, ol' fashioned funky hip-hop, simultaneously challenging and familiar. Treekeeper drops deep, deep electro-influenced space funk — think Midnight Star swimming through a lake of Xanax, fighting evil robot fish. That gives us hope for the non-bro-steppin' end of our local electronic music scene. 9:30 p.m. at Mercy Lounge —SEAN L. MALONEY
Given their snappy rise in the fledging "indie mainstream," chances are the Manhattan-based Cults have crossed your radar at least once since early 2010. Arriving on the national stage just weeks after posting three songs to their Bandcamp page, the duo — featuring former film students Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion — have since signed with Columbia, released a critically lauded debut and been featured everywhere from Vogue to W to Pitchfork. And rightly so. Validating the incessant buzz that's surrounded Cults since day one, their eponymous release finally re-casts the oft-referenced Brill Building sound in a new light, distinguishing the band from peers like Vivian Girls and Best Coast — peers who have mined early '60s pop with less inspiring results. 8:15 p.m. at the 12th Avenue Block Party Stage —RYAN BURLESON
Dropping by Cannery Row to see Uncle Skeleton play a rare show upstairs before RJD2's headlining set in Cannery proved to be one of my best decisions of last year's Next Big Nashville. Armed with practically a full orchestra, Uncle Skeleton plays music unlike anything I've ever heard. Equal parts progressive and familiar, the band's style regularly defies music critics' built-in genre-assignment software. Electro-soul jazz? Ambient summer pop? Something-something-dance-something? Whatever it is, it blew hundreds of awed onlookers away when they opened Bonnaroo this year, and Uncle Skeleton is poised to become your new favorite band. 11:35 p.m. at 12th & Porter —LANCE CONZETT
Foster the People
With their reputation preceding them — thanks to the oh-my-God-it's-everywhere, shimmering, saccharine single of the summer "Pumped Up Kicks" — LA's indie-poppers Foster the People sold out their June 29 show at Mercy Lounge so swiftly that their gig was moved downstairs to the roughly twice-as-large Cannery Ballroom. Certainly more pop than indie, their debut full-length, Torches, isn't without its moments, sparkling with sophisticated production and occasional melodic complexity. Their intermittent resemblance to just-too-sugary outfits like Maroon 5, however, didn't help on the blowback front. That said, the once-too-sugary Phoenix got much better with time, and FTP play really well live. If you like the record (or, more importantly, the single), you won't be disappointed. 9:15 p.m. at the 12th Avenue Block Party Stage —D. PATRICK RODGERS
How I Became the Bomb
It's been a minute since we've heard anything from How I Became the Bomb. The band hasn't played a local show since opening for Miami Horror at Mercy Lounge back in June, spending the time since playing for Big Lebowski fans in Louisville and — from what we've heard — working on their long-awaited follow-up to the ambitious 2009 debut album Deadly Art. The Bomb's new songs are still mostly a mystery, but if Deadly Art and Let's Go are any indication, we're in for another round of truly rad Devo-inspired synth pop. 10:30 p.m. at Mai —LANCE CONZETT
Boss of Nova
Name sound familiar? It should. His work with Chancellor Warhol is some of the most innovative pop Nashville has seen in years — a paradigm-shifting blur of electronica, pop and hip-hop on the forefront of the city's new music community. Boss of Nova's solo work goes further down the rabbit hole, finding deep-pop gems at the bottom of a blue electronic sea. 11:35 p.m. at Mai —SEAN L. MALONEY
If there's anyone worthy of repping the Music City's slowly unveiling diversity, it's the genre-jumping Kyle Andrews. Andrews turned heads, blew minds and ignited ear buds this summer with Robot Learn Love — a beat-blasting, face-melting, heart-wrenching, toe-tapping concept album that pontificates not only on modern life through the eyes of technology, but the summation of everything pop has come to mean in the last 40 years. 10:30 p.m. at 12th & Porter —SETH GRAVES
The rise of Louisville's My Morning Jacket from alt-country cult favorites to festival-rock titans can be traced back, in no small part, to the addition of lead guitarist and Nashville native Carl Broemel back in 2004. While Jim James has always been MMJ's creative engine, Broemel was integral in helping the band branch out into some pretty daring, diverse territory on its last three LPs. By comparison, Broemel's solo material may be considerably less adventurous, but the pop sensibilities and pedal-steel sweetness of 2010's All Birds Say made for a welcome return to basics. 10:20 p.m. at The Station Inn —ANDREW CLAYMAN
Shortly into SoundLand, you'll surely be sick of guitars. Fortunately, Ben Sollee plays the cello. This is awesome. His skill on the instrument and the way he blends genres and styles into an undeniably appealing package always feels fresh. His latest full-length, Inclusions, features the same wit, soul, subtlety and rich musicality as his breakout Learning to Bend. (Do yourself a favor and listen to "Bible Belt" now.) Sollee also has a sense of humor — a couple years ago, he released "Dear Kanye," his heartfelt plea to a talented artist overindulging his more base commercial impulses. "You don't need a light show," he assures Mr. West, "just good flow." 11:15 p.m. at The Station Inn —LEE STABERT
Simultaneously silky-smooth and impossibly filthy, Cherub's savant electro-funk is a spiritual descendent of late, lamented locals Spring Hill Spider Party — except without the jokes. We're not sure when and how it happened, but an unironic love of Hall & Oates and '80s disco funk has crept its way into the local scene, and it looks like it's here to stay. Of all of the bands professing their love for Prince's freakiest R&B tunes, Cherub's variant is about as sincere as it is on point. We guarantee it: This is where the dance party will be, and as far as we're concerned, Cherub is much more interesting than unctuous electro-funk headliners Ghostland Observatory. 10 p.m. at Cannery Ballroom —LANCE CONZETT
While we were all fawning over (admittedly excellent) records by local singer-songwriters like Caitlin Rose and Elizabeth Cook for the last year's annual "Best of" poll, one songstress in particular was criminally overlooked. Jasmin Kaset's Hell and Half of Jordan is only 20 minutes long, but it's 20 of the strongest minutes we've heard in a long time from a local artist. Kaset's songs have significant charm on their own merit, but the depth of production on the record gives them an irresistible quality that can only come from incredibly strong songwriting and arrangement. 9 p.m. at The Basement —LANCE CONZETT
The Low Anthem
Like the Minnesota band that shares the word "Low" in its name, The Low Anthem does not make music for the easily distracted. Theirs is a slow unfurling — a deal with the listener to hang in there for the entire, glacial sweep of a song. It's a gradual and ultimately rewarding accrual of heft assembled from the sparest arrangements and impossibly delicate vocals. And it's a deal worth making. 10:40 p.m. at The Basement —STEVE HARUCH
12th Avenue Block Party
Sorry, but we will never ever believe that a block party featuring a bunch of indie-rock acts can actually be considered a block "party." Now, hip-hop — founded on the block and in the parks — is the perfect music for a block party, and oh man, what a party this one is gonna be! Headliners Big K.R.I.T. and Yelawolf were both in the running for best-rap-show-of-the-year for their respective sold-out gigs earlier in the one-one, but now that they're on the same bill, we might as well just call it now: best show of the year.
K.R.I.T. and Yela are two sides of the same Southern Rap coin — one classicist, one futurist — and when you get them together in one spot — like on the recent "Happy Birthday Hip Hop" or Rittz's "Full of Shit" — there is nothing finer. And when you get these dudes on stage? Pure fucking fire — each takes the art of performance to hitherto unforeseen levels of quality. And then, because it ain't no fun if the local homies don't get none, we've got the cream of the Nashville hip-hop community filling out a night of bangin' beats and big-time fun. Sam & Tre and Chancellor Warhol — both supporting killer new releases — are on the Block Party Stage, while inside at Mai you'll find Scene favorites Call It Dope!, Dee Goodz, Openmic and Stix Izza. 9 p.m. at the 12th Avenue Block Party Stage —SEAN L. MALONEY
The phrase "supergroup" is often used pejoratively in modern rock circles — consider how most of us feel about Audioslave. But it carries a very different connotation when it comes to By Lightning!, a promising new ensemble featuring seven seasoned members of Nashville's rock and folk music communities. Mostly pulled from Dixie Dirt (R.I.P.), De Novo Dahl (kinda R.I.P.?) and Hands Down Eugene, the vets in By Lightning! marry porch-perfect Americana, scuzzy, J Mascis-ian rock and the type of no-nonsense attitude you would expect from a group that's collectively seen it all industry-wise. Indeed, their excellent debut, Sand Down the Edges, feels at once effortlessly constructed and devoid of the try-hard motif that many in Nashville can't help but embrace. 8 p.m. at Mercy Lounge —RYAN BURLESON
The Silver Seas
Co-founded by frontman-guitarist Daniel Tashian and engineer to the stars (and one helluva keyboardist) Jason Lehning, The Silver Seas craft airy, pulsing pop songs that should appeal to anyone who longs for the days of mid- to late-'70s FM radio — echoes of everyone from Fleetwood Mac and Hall & Oates to ELO and Boz Scaggs can be heard on 2010's Chateau Revenge. They're fresh off some well-received dates in the U.K., so they should be firing on all cylinders. 10 p.m. at Mercy Lounge —JACK SILVERMAN
Keegan DeWitt & Madi Diaz
People are always trying to convince the world that Nashville's rock scene can compete with the Country Music Industrial Complex, but many ignore the city's burgeoning underground pop scene. Touring buddies and collaborators Keegan DeWitt and Madi Diaz both produce bright, catchy tunes with an assist from layered, thoughtful production. Diaz hews a little closer to traditional singer-songwriter territory with love songs and pretty, emotive vocals. DeWitt, on the other hand, is more likely to get you moving, as on the sparkly, danceable "Say La La" or the moody, insistent "Hearts Beat Loud." Keegan DeWitt 8:50 p.m. at Mercy Lounge; Madi Diaz 11:30 p.m. at Mercy Lounge —LEE STABERT
I'd dare not nominate this fine lineup for something as hokey and misguided as "The Highwaymen: The Next Generation," but the storyline does kind of write itself. Here you've got a marriage of indie rock's foremost Americana labels — New West and Bloodshot — showcasing three torch-carrying but refreshingly original voices in a dilapidated "alt-country" universe. Former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell plays the rebellious rocker, broken free of his old gang and on the run with a new bunch of bandits out of Alabama called the 400 Unit. Out of Houston, we have the wide-eyed 22-year-old Robert Ellis — already a walking encyclopedia of classic C&W music, but equally at ease with a sparse, Townes Van Zandt-ish folk ballad as a lushly produced George Jones number. And speaking of Townes, there's his partial namesake Justin Townes Earle, son of the legendary Steve, but quickly escaping that shadow and his own inner demons to become one of America's most acclaimed young singer-songwriters. If you know someone still ignorantly bemoaning the death of "real country music" and the generation that supposedly killed it, please do us all a favor and drag them to Cannery for this one. 7:20 p.m. at Cannery Ballroom —ANDREW CLAYMAN
As a discerning festivalgoer, you demand quality. Well, Friday night at The Basement has got your quality rock 'n' roll. First! The two-piece Action!, starring husband-and-wife team Dan and Robyn Burns. Their engaging, anticipatory harmonies evoke the rising ... well, action of dramatic structure, and climax without devolving into melodrama. With evocative melodies that avoid spilling into cloying territory, it's hard not to wonder which song you want playing during a montage in the short film of your life. Next! We've got newish band Tiger High. Did you know Tiger High is Memphis-based? In fact, urbandictionary.com informs us that "tiger high" is in fact a derisive nickname for the University of Memphis. Such sass. The group, comprised of brothers Jake and Toby Vest, Greg Faison and former Reigning Sound drummer Greg Roberson, have the solid '60s rock numbers on lock. Then! After that is Ri¢hie, (rather-difficult-to-Google-unless-you're-looking-up-Macaulay Culkin-films), the new project from Richie Kirkpatrick of Ghostfinger renown. The Stonesy and cock-rocky moments remain, but with a newfound, streamlined vigor. Finally! Ending the evening are The Ettes, just a few weeks off the release of their latest, Wicked Will. Fuzzy, kinda menacing garage-surf tunes coupled with self-assured, world-class performances pretty damn well guarantee a stompin' end to your oh-so-quality evening. 9 p.m. at The Basement —ASHLEY SPURGEON
Third Man Records
Of those punctual enough to have gotten in, who could ever forget last year's raucous Next Big Nashville shindigs at Third Man Records? Turbo Fruits frontman Jonas Stein crowd-surfed across the Blue Room mid-guitar solo, Cheap Time made a rare appearance and JEFF the Brotherhood cut a killer live record.
The packed-out pair of shows — hosted in conjunction with popular local punk blog Nashville's Dead — was a local coronation for Jack White's downtown record store and venue, marking the first time White and his Third Man cohorts involved themselves directly in such a Music City-centric event. And just as Next Big Nashville's metamorphosis into SoundLand is a move to the center — between local love and national exposure — so is the year's festival's show at Third Man.
Three-parts regional and two-parts national, the local tip on this five-act bill will feature the retro soul grooves and laid-back instrumentation of Athens, Ala., foursome The Alabama Shakes, the bedraggled, rampageous garage-punk of Hans Condor and rapid-fire, sneering pop-hockery of PUJOL — the latter of whom also appeared at last year's Third Man throw-down. In the time since, the budding songwriter, Daniel Pujol, has switched backing bands, crisscrossed the country on tour with Ted Leo and inked a deal with top-dog indie label Saddle Creek Records. His first release for the label, an EP titled Nasty, Brutish, and Short, is set to drop in October.
And on the national tip, the bill will see the Nashville debut of deconstructionist, experimental Detroit garage rockers Human Eye, featuring volatile former Clone Defects singer Tim Vulgar, who are known for their stage-ravaging, ear-splitting live shows.
Rounding this onslaught of harum-scarum rock 'n' roll and adding insult to deafening injury is yet another (not to complain) Nashville appearance from relentlessly confrontational comedic persona Neil Hamburger, whose poor-man's-Don-Rickles-goes-to-Williamsburgh-2011-instead-of-The-Copa one-liners, pop-cultural and societal indictments are, again, sure to offend as many as they inspire. Such is the case with comb-overs. 7:45 p.m. at Third Man Records —ADAM GOLD
When Nashville-by-way-of-North Carolina family band Roman Candle loaned brother Logan Matheny to The Rosebuds (who were touring in support of Bon Iver this summer), husband-and-wife duo and central members Skip and Timshel Matheny hit the road. With their three children in tow, the duo played living rooms across the country, road-testing tunes for a forthcoming record. It's a story that might make for a good sitcom, except that Roman Candle's songs are probably just too good. Their Oh Tall Tree in the Ear, released in 2009, features the sort of bold, diverse instrumentation, anthemic verve and folk-rooted experimentation that just might make you think of Wilco's late '90s and early Aughts output. Way better than The Partridge Family. 10:20 p.m. at The Station Inn —D. PATRICK RODGERS
It's been a while since we've heard anyone try to take a swing at the orchestral folk that Sufjan Stevens did so well — until he started writing scores for multimedia explorations of expressways and generally being a pretentious jerkoff. Thankfully, Colorfeels sound like they've taken the Sufjan earnestness and left behind the Sufjan dickishness. Their debut, Syzygy, is full of multi-instrumental heart and promises to be a surprising culture clash for the hip-hop heavyweights playing at Mai and on the Block Party stage at the same time. 11:10 at 12th & Porter —LANCE CONZETT
The Non-Commissioned Officers
Have we mentioned lately how thrilled we are that The Non-Commissioned Officers decided not to break up after the premiere of Make-Out With Violence — the locally shot zombie movie that brought the band together in the first place — at Next Big Nashville way back in 2008? Though many of the original members have moved on, The Non-Comms are still one of Nashville's best rock bands. There's a good reason why they easily won their round of Road to Bonnaroo last year — their Eno-inspired synth rock manages to blend catchiness with the horror-film darkness that characterized their first efforts. 12:40 a.m. at 12th & Porter —LANCE CONZETT
A frequent traveler along the line between indie pop and spectral folk melancholy, Natalie Prass has gotten pretty good at knowing when to let a song drift toward one, and when to drift back toward the other. She's got an ear for melody and makes good use of a restrained, airy singing style. In May, Prass raised enough money online via Kickstarter to record a new full-length album, and we look forward to the results. 8:45 p.m. at The Station Inn —STEVE HARUCH
Neuhoff Factory Outdoor Party
If there's one SoundLand show sure to embody the festival's musical-amusement-park motif as well as capture a time-stamped snapshot of Nashville rock circa-now, it's this all-day Saturday soiree at Neuhoff Factory — a gaping gravel-and-concrete industrial enclave in Germantown.
At last year's Next Big Nashville, promoters test-drove the facility with a VIP day party featuring free elixirs, gaming stations and a performance courtesy of The Features. Judging by the fun had by the thousand-plus mass that turned out to indulge, the result was the single most festive, South by Southwest-worthy event in the festival's initial five-year run — its success seemingly setting the stage for the makeover that is SoundLand.
Set to appear at this, essentially SoundLand 2011's main event, are Music City flagship stoner-punk duo JEFF the Brotherhood, barn-burnin' Nashville-by-way-of-Murfreesboro jezebels (and bro) Those Darlins, garage-goth newcomers and Jack White protégés The Black Belles, trad-pop-rock savant Tristen, local indie-Americana troupe The Apache Relay, part-time Nashville indweller Jessica Lea Mayfield and Knoxville neo-psych rockers Royal Bangs. In other words — for Music City detractors who hate us for our freewheelin' capacity to kick out the jams — between both the musicians and the inevitable orbit of local luminaries onsite, there's no better theoretical time to rid the rock scene of its key members.
To distract such potential threats to Nash-onal security, the event will boast a 30-foot waterslide, a giant inflatable dragon (not kidding!) and an armada of local food trucks. 2 p.m. at Neuhoff Factory —ADAM GOLD
There are great shows all over town today, but Mercy Lounge is shutting it down on Saturday with local rock bands of all stripes and a late-night rendition of an album you almost certainly own(ed). Dance rock, post-punk, power pop. They've got it all, and that's how it's kicking off with Cheer Up Charlie Daniels, Evan P. Donohue and The Pink Spiders, respectively. In fact, the recently reconvened Spiders have been hawking their sonic wares on tour bursts east-ish of the Mississippi for a minute — and so has electro/rock band Paper Route, who, according to their Twitter account, should have a new album out soon. They've got performances with Paramore and quite a few soundtrack numbers under their belt at this point, which should add up to a fine, tight-as-tight show. This particular writer is looking forward to Paper Route because, hell, we haven't seen them since the "Rebuild This City" flood benefit show way back in 2010. Local all-'90s cover outfit My So-Called Band will close out the night with a top-to-bottom performance of Nirvana's seminal 1991 release, Nevermind. Will drummer Sam Smith channel the good-natured goofiness of Dave Grohl? Will singer Dave Paulson shoot up heroin prior to performing? Will the crowd take a smoke break during "Territorial Pissings"? Only one way to find out! 9 p.m. at Mercy Lounge —ASHLEY SPURGEON
Six years between albums might as well be a lifetime — The Raconteurs have gone on and returned from hiatus in less time — but here comes Snowden again. Last seen opening for everyone from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah to Kings of Leon, the most-blogged-about band of 2006 finally has new material. The Slow Soft Syrup EP, released earlier this year as a preview of a new album, features the same languid affect and shimmering guitar-tronics that made Anti-Anti an auspicious debut way back when. 8 p.m. at 12th & Porter —STEVE HARUCH
The Cadillac Black
It's no coincidence their initials are TCB. These former American Bang-ers are throwing down lightning bolts of no-nonsense Southern rock punctuated with karate kicks to your wig dome, dude. Heavy as all get out, freaked out, fuzzed out, these dudes traded in their polish for some red clay and a sound that, frankly, we always knew they had in them — The Cadillac Black pummels country, blues and all their bastard progeny into hurricane-force hipster-billy rawk. 10:30 p.m. at 12th & Porter —SEAN L. MALONEY
Nashville songstress Caitlin Rose recently announced the latest feather in her cap: a deal with ATO Records, home to My Morning Jacket, Drive-By Truckers and Patty Griffin, among others. It's a partnership that makes a lot of sense, and on Tuesday, ATO will re-release her arresting, artful full-length debut, Own Side Now. The album has an undeniable, dreamy charm, whether Rose is describing her adventures on the streets of New York City or the carnage of a bad breakup. Given its pitch-perfect lilt and modern twang, it's no wonder ATO snatched this one up. 11:10 p.m. at The Basement —LEE STABERT