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Cover Story

Sound Bites From the Pop Buffet

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a chance to sample some of today's most cutting-edge music. But with so many choices, it pays to know which acts are worth fighting the crowds.

April 25, 2002|Natalie Nichols, Robert Hilburn, Steve Hochman, Steve Baltin, Richard Cromelin

--Steve Baltin

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BJORK

Even under normal circumstances you can't be sure what this pop provocateur will come up with, so when she plans a surprise, it's best to be ready for anything. Just last year, Bjork released a typically ambitious album ("Vespertine"), gave acoustic concerts in candle-lit churches in Europe and New York, toured with a show featuring a full orchestra and a choir of Inuit women from Greenland, and received a best song Oscar nomination for "I've Seen It All." She wrote the song for "Dancer in the Dark," the Lars von Trier film in which she also starred.

Bjork's music mixes electronic, dance and ambient with cabaret, folk and pop, framing a voice as powerful as it is idiosyncratic. To her devoted fans, she's become a quirky Pied Piper in search of an ideal of pure beauty. Saturday. --Richard Cromelin

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CORNERSHOP

It wasn't long ago that Tjinder Singh, a Londoner of Indian descent, and his partner Ben Ayres were poised to conquer the world. Their eccentric blend of Indian instruments, rock dynamics, pop hooks, hip-hop beats and sampled collages made Cornershop's 1997 album, "When I Was Born for the 7th Time," an attention-getting near-breakthrough. But instead of setting up shop, they broke up.

Four years later, Cornershop has returned with an even more intoxicating take on its signature sound. The recently released album "Handcream for a Generation" is a speaker-hopping, swirling, cross-cultural ferment of funk, garage rock, Punjabi pop and psychedelic excavation. If their live show captures half of its giddy fervor, it could be the set of the weekend. Saturday.

--R.C.

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OASIS

"You're my sunshine, you're my rain," Liam Gallagher sings in "The Hindu Times," the new Oasis single, and the contrasting images summarize the Gallagher brothers' sometimes warm, sometimes stormy relationship--with each other and with American rock fans.

Blessed with melodies as seductive as Lennon-McCartney's, Oasis arrived in England in the mid-'90s with "Definitely Maybe," an album that triggered a response reminiscent of Beatlemania. Thanks to the wonderfully uplifting "Live Forever" and "Wonderwall," Oasis even started getting momentum in this country, giving the U.S. a refreshing break from the relentless darkness and anxiety of most American rock. "Definitely Maybe" sold 3 million copies here, but things suddenly began to unravel.

The Gallaghers may have eventually overcome Liam's aloof stage presence and their tedious squabbling, but a sharp decline in the quality of the music on the 2000 album "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" had the ring of a death knell. Oasis' shows last summer with the Black Crowes, however, were encouraging. The band returns with a new album in July, and we should hear bits of it at Coachella. The reaction may tell us whether the future for the band is blue skies or gray. Sunday. --R.H.

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THE PRODIGY

The group hit the pop-rock world like a meteor six years ago, mixing rock dynamics and dance rhythms so gloriously in the single "Firestarter" that the record felt every bit as revolutionary as Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." MTV was so enthusiastic that it started revising its playlist, just in case techno became the next big thing in pop-rock.

Britain's Q magazine, in fact, is still so in love with "Firestarter" that it just named it the second most exciting single ever--four spots ahead of "Teen Spirit" and one behind the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen."

The band's live shows--featuring the colorful Keith Flint in the role of a Johnny Rotten-like rebel out front, while group leader Liam Howlett controlled the sound from the synthesizer panel in the back--were equally thrilling, with such other tracks as the controversial "Smack My Bitch Up" and "Serial Thrilla" fueling the fire.

After all this, Howlett bought a big house in the English countryside and began thinking--very slowly--about a new album. That CD is due this fall, and some tracks will be showcased here. Will the flame still burn? Sunday.

--R.H.

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