Get ready to hear some faves and make new musical friends at M.I.A.

Posted: August 29, 2014

EVEN AVID music scenesters might not know half of the "nearly 50" acts curated by lead producer Shawn "Jay Z" Carter and friends for this weekend's Budweiser Made in America Music Festival on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. And that's a good thing.

Ideally, fests should be about discovery. And if programmed right - balanced for ear-cleansing contrast and maximum sparkle - the talent grab-bags can help un-do long-held stereotypes and musical prejudices.

A couple Labor Day weekends ago, the first M.I.A. in 2012 danced delicately around the growing EDM (electronic dance music) craze - shunting off even global-legend DJs and their delirious disciples to their own tented domain.

But last year and even more so this year, major league spinners are earning celebrity treatment equal to (if not surpassing) all others. EDM gets its own Freedom Stage while the biggest stars will be blasting their anthemic hooks and bounce-worthy beats from the big Liberty Stage and later on (is better) in the daily lineups - with props-reliant Steve Aoki (watch out for the cake drop) hitting tomorrow, then the super poppy Tiesto on Sunday evening.

Variety being the spice of life - and the way today's contemporary music fans roll - M.I.A. also will be awash in hip-hop, angsty rock (of several stripes) and a little bit of retro- and pop-propped soul. Kanye West and J. Cole loom largest in the first realm, earnest Brooklyn alt-rockers the National in the second category, the ever "Happy" Pharrell Williams and Mayer Hawthorne in the third. And yo, Pittsburgh-spawned master spinner Girl Talk will even cover all those bets and bases! (See above.)

Yet even with the fest's flag-waving name and location - and the red, white and blue themed fashions you'll see lots sporting - the only hints of "heartland" country music that showgoers will encounter anywhere on the grounds will be the Southern fried yelps of festival closers Kings of Leon. (Good placement - the swampy rockers' fans will stay put, of course, while nonbelievers will ease congestion by exiting early.)

The first, companion West Coast edition of M.I.A. also humming this weekend in Los Angeles is similarly devoid of "downhome American" vibes.

Which makes us wonder - was Jay Z aiming to avoid extreme culture clashes that could potentially turn nasty at his otherwise "inclusive" shows?

Or might it be that he just doesn't cotton to those big hat fashions (Pharrell excepted) and boot-stomping hoedowns?

Truth is, country more than takes care of its own with big shed and stadium shows and doesn't need an M.I.A. festival. But many of the lesser-known acts working this weekend in other music realms sure do. Here's a Tantalizing Twelve we're thinking especially worthy of your attention, along with those obvious, big name draws:

*  Cherub - Electro pop duo pumpin' with polyphonic synthesizers crank some "disco s*#@ that keeps you up all night." Dudes should put you in a purple Princely state, till the real thing comes around (New Year's Eve, maybe?)

* Vacationer - Hatboro/Horsham rooted front man Kenny Vasoli puts his haunting, heart-aching vocal sound to an exotically vibrant, sweet-swaying variant on dream pop he calls "Nu-Hula." Think Vampire Weekend or Brian Wilson taking a Hawaiian vacation.

*  KONGOS - Romping/stomping with accordion and hand drums, other times darkly emo(tive), this brotherly rock band was spawned in South Africa, offspring of '70s star John Kongos. Now U.S.-based and best known for the rally cry "Come With Me Now," they still stir in some old-country Kwaito dance flavor.

*  Penguin Prison - One-man band Chris Glover gets you going with '80s-style disco bass lines, shimmering synths and infectious soul pop vocals. He's doing a "DJ with live vocals" set here. We're betting PP brings amazing T-shirts, too!

*  Danny Brown - One minute, this offbeat rapper is sharing his quirky quest shopping for Wonderbread - "Thats right, just Wonderbread!" Then the next, freaking us good with hard-core, ominous "Gremlins." Schizoid? Well, yes and no.

*  Bleachers - Singer/guitarist/songwriter Jack Antonoff has to share the glory in the band Fun (and was fairly anonymous in Steel Train). But this pep rally is clearly his, and riding high with the infectious "I Wanna Get Better" immortalized in commercials and a music video directed by Jack's girlfriend Lena Dunham. A great summer anthem.

*  Chromeo - Bubblicious soul pop from Dave 1 and P-Thugg comes off like a remade/remodeled Hall and Oates.

*  De La Soul - First of the blunt talking (and smoking) alt-rap stars, these hippy-hop pioneers have been off the grid so long even they might not remember when they were trendsetters. Likely to seem like the new thing to many younger listeners, too. (Big Daddy Kane may enjoy a similar fate.)

*  Grimes - Stage name for Montreal's Claire Boucher, this appealing, eccentric, electro-thrush chirps atop beds of industrial, noise rock, hip-hop, pop and even medieval music.

*  City and Colour - Alternative identity for Dallas Green, a guitar-strumming, heart-tugging tenor working in the folky melancholy mode of Iron and Wine or the late 'n' great Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake. Hard to believe Green used to crank hardcore in Alexisonfire.

*  Spoon - Sardonic Texas troupe serves an intriguing mix - from spit 'n' snarl, Stones-like rock to earnest piano balladeering and the latest thing in trip hop.

*  Young & Sick - After making a mark with his album cover art (for Robin Thicke, Maroon 5, etc.) Dutch-born Nick Van Hofwegen proves an equally talented purveyor of blue-eyed-soul vocals and compact, well-propelled techno pop. Many a showgoer should connect with his doo wop-styled refrain "I'm a 'Twenty Something' still not used to my skin."



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