Music » Music Feature

Our guide to the Pitchfork Music Festival

Reviews of all 45 bands, a rundown of afterparties, and a free 29-song download

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Sunday, July 17

[Included in 29-song download] Bands with this icon are part of our free 29-track playlist

[Included in 29-song download] Darkstar, 1:00 PM Blue stage This British dubstep trio sprinkles thin, stuttering beats with jaundiced pop melodies on last year's North (Hyperdub), which makes it sound a bit more frantic and a touch less interesting than, uh, the Human League. —Peter Margasak

  • Kristin Klein

[Included in 29-song download] Fresh & Onlys, 1:00 PM Green stage Prolific San Francisco garage combo the Fresh & Onlys stepped inside a proper recording studio for the first time to make their third album, last year's Play It Strange (In the Red). Tim Cohen's voice remains a ghostly presence, and the guitars and organ float as if in a thick soup—but despite all this the music is remarkably melodically generous, full of hooks that leap out at you like beams of light piercing a dense fog. For garage rockers, the Fresh & Onlys are on the stylistically ambiguous side, combining bubblegum melodies, surf twang, Byrdsian folk-rock jangle, punk drive, and psychedelic murk; they seem to be doing for hooky pop what Greg Cartwright's Reigning Sound has done for blue-eyed soul. Also tonight at the Empty Bottle, 21+. —Peter Margasak

[Included in 29-song download] Yuck, 1:45 PM Red stage There are approximately one million bajillion bands currently plundering 90s alt-rock for ideas, but very few of them realize those ideas with the period-perfect accuracy of young London four-piece Yuck. Blindfold some thirtysomething indie fans, play them a track from the group's recent self-titled debut album on Fat Possum, and watch them struggle to name the artist whose obscure B side they think they're listening to. Is it Dinosaur Jr.? Teenage Fanclub? Pavement? Yuck's music may be derivative, but it's brilliantly done—I weep that I never had "Shook Down" in my arsenal back when I was into making smooshy mix tapes for girls. Also tonight at Schubas, 18+. —Miles Raymer

[Included in 29-song download] How to Dress Well, 1:55 PM Blue stage Recent Chicago transplant Tom Krell, who makes impressionistic dream-pop streaked with radio R&B as How to Dress Well, is chronically shy—which has made his success somewhat problematic for him. Given his appearance here, though, it seems like he's coping. Krell recently released an EP, Just Once (Yours Truly), that swaps out the lo-fi synths of his previous releases for lush string arrangements. —Miles Raymer

[Included in 29-song download] Kurt Vile & the Violators, 2:30 PM Green stage Indie rock's rekindled love affair with low fidelity continues to smolder, but some of the acts that laid the groundwork for the revival are already starting to abandon it. It turns out that cleaner production highlights some artist's flaws, while others take to it so naturally you almost want them to rerecord their back catalog. Kurt Vile's recent Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador) earns the prolific musician a spot in the latter category: it's an even stronger set of songs than 2009's brilliant Childish Prodigy, thanks in part to production by indie stalwart John Agnello, who removes the veil of tape hiss and echo Vile hid behind on previous efforts and frames his voice with lush but simple arrangements, heavy on the acoustic guitars and tastefully touched up with modulation effects. For more on Kurt Vile, see this week's Artist on Artist interview. Also Sat 7/16 at Subterranean with Woods, 17+. —Miles Raymer

Twin Sister, 2:50 PM Blue stage They've only released a pair of EPs so far, but New York five-piece Twin Sister will drop their full-length debut, In Heaven (Domino), at the end of September. Judging from the EPs, the album will most certainly be full of decadent mazes of indie pop with occasional detours into electro beats, funk, and dissonant weirdness. With her airy yet sultry voice and peculiar magnetism, front woman Andrea Estella has "future indie darling" written all over her. Also Sat 7/16 at Schubas, 18+. —Kevin Warwick

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, 3:20 PM Red stage By far the most controversial act in the Pitchfork festival's history, this clique of young rappers has occasioned the spilling of much ink in the music media thanks to lyrics that feature the occasional rape fantasy and zealous use of the word "faggot." Of course no one would care what they were saying if they weren't very good at what they're doing, which they are. With a bewildering profusion of releases that includes mix tapes as well as label-backed albums, the group's members—Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean, Hodgy Beats, Syd tha Kyd, Left Brain, and a few second-stringers who seem to just hang around—have provided some of the best, weirdest, and most morally troublesome moments in rap's recent history. Syd tha Kyd also tonight at Beauty Bar (DJ set), 21+. —Miles Raymer

[Included in 29-song download] Shabazz Palaces, 3:45 PM Blue stage Shabazz Palaces' new debut album, Black Up (Sub Pop), sounds like a concept sketch of the rap people will be making in the year 2020. The music feels like it might've been produced by scribbling equations on a chalkboard rather than by fiddling with a bunch of knobs—it layers atomized samples, usually processed till they're unidentifiable, atop synth bass and Kraftwerky analog bleeps that remind me of early Detroit techno. But it's consistently warm and organic, never dispassionately robotic, which puts the group—fronted by Ishmael Butler, formerly of 90s jazz-rap trio Digable Planets—firmly in the line of funky Afro-futurists descended from Parliament-Funkadelic. Also Sat 7/16 at Lincoln Hall, 18+. —Miles Raymer

Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, 4:15 PM Green stage It's when indie rock seems like little more than a farm league for Target commercials that I'm most thankful for Ariel Pink. While his contemporaries aim for consistency and accessibility, Pink seems blissfully free of such concerns. His albums are manic, haphazard affairs, which he creates by ripping apart a variety of styles that once topped the charts (psychedelic pop, cock rock, 70s soft funk) and reassembling them into strange, cryptic hybrids that even the most open-minded listener is likely to find baffling as well as pleasurable. Last year's Before Today (4AD) sounds like Pink put Steely Dan, the Beach Boys, Motley Crue, and an eyedropper of LSD in a blender—and then shot the blender with a grenade launcher. —Miles Raymer

  • Jane Kil

[Included in 29-song download] Baths, 4:45 PM Blue stage At first, Will Wiesenfeld (aka Baths) got lumped in with the chillwave crowd, but last year's Cerulean (Anticon) proved him capable of more than the typical nostalgia-addled bedroom pop. His dense, stimulating sound includes complex piano melodies, jagged rhythms, skittish laptop funk, and avant-garde hip-hop—all tied up with a pretty bow by his haunting vocals, which waver between a soothing coo and an overwrought croon. Like many laid-back indie-leaning electronic artists, Wiesenfeld sometimes coats his tunes in layers of distortion, but Cerulean—not to mention Wiesenfeld's buoyant stage presence—is far more engrossing than it is "chill." —Leor Galil

Superchunk, 5:15 PM Red stage The 2010 release Majesty Shredding (Merge) was the first new Superchunk album in nine years—a gap almost half as long as the Chapel Hill band's career—so it's not surprising that they'd spend part of the record looking back, half wondering where the time went. In "My Gap Feels Weird" front man Mac McCaughan discovers that the passing years have turned him into the sort of "old guy at the show" that his younger self dissed for not knowing what the kids were about. And on "Fractures in Plaster" he pleads, "When the past proves hard to resist / You'll keep a loose grip on my wrist, won't you?" The foursome complement this self-awareness with their musical choices, recalling the brashness and energy of their first few albums—Majesty Shredding is the spunkiest, most aggressive Superchunk record since the early 90s. —Peter Margasak

[Included in 29-song download] Kylesa, 5:45 PM Blue stage The Pitchfork festival's token metal act for 2011, these dudes and lady from Savannah, Georgia, jam a hypnotic, psych-­infused style of heaviness that's also repped by Peach State contemporaries Mastodon, Baroness, and Zoroaster. Last year's Spiral Shadow (Season of Mist) proves yet again that two drummers, in any context whatsoever, are always better than one. —Kevin Warwick

[Included in 29-song download] Deerhunter, 6:15 PM Green stage Deerhunter's seemingly inexhaustible talent for coming up with catchy tunes has made them arguably the best indie-pop band currently working, but it's the complications they put between their listeners and their hooks that make them the most interesting one. Their recent fourth album, Halcyon Digest (4AD), opens with "Earthquake," five minutes of slo-mo lo-fi drum machine and guitar, hissy atmospherics, and narcotized vocals—it probably would've been catchy as hell if the band had played it twice as fast. Even the record's snappier, punchier cuts, like "Don't Cry" and "Memory Boy," tend to wander off into abstraction, staking out their own spots in a territory unique to the band where garage rock, twee, and swoony, floppy-haired Britpop overlap. Also Sat 7/16 at Beauty Bar (DJ set) with Twin Shadow (DJ set), sold out. —Miles Raymer

[Included in 29-song download] Toro y Moi, 6:45 PM Blue stage More hazy plundering of the 80s by a guy whose nostalgia for the decade's music can probably be explained by the fact that he's too young to have been scarred by it directly. Chaz Bundick's tracks as Toro y Moi are pleasant enough to play quietly in the background, but you shouldn't bother listening too closely—the biggest difference between nearly every "chillwave" act and the bands who inspired them is that the 80s hacks could at least carry a tune. —Peter Margasak

[Included in 29-song download] Cut Copy, 7:25 PM Red stage Dance music from down under that's been around for a decade. Cut Copy hit the indie-cred tipping point last year when they turned down Lady Gaga's offer to have them open for Her Majesty on a yearlong tour. —Mara Shalhoup

[Included in 29-song download] Health, 7:40 PM Blue stage Once you get past Health's screech and scrawl, they're just four dudes who wanna dance. Their self-titled debut album veers toward cacophony while its companion disc of remixes, Health Disco, strips those boisterous tunes down to their funky backbones—and on 2009's haunting Get Color (Lovepump United), the LA group splits the difference between those two approaches to great effect. Get Color does away with the unfocused noise and cozies up to some head-nodding alt-pop, making Health's bombastic, cataclysmic style that much easier to dance to. —Leor Galil

TV on the Radio, 8:30 PM Green stage It's strange to see TV on the Radio—a rock band that's made an art out of not acting like a rock band—succumb to the typical manifestations of musical middle age. After the breakthrough 2008 album Dear Science, they took a hiatus and went their separate ways. They did solo projects and collaborated with other artists. The guy with the quirky hairstyle cut his hair. Now the members finally get back together, and the result, the recent Nine Types of Light (Interscope), has some of TVOTR's avid fans feeling strangely ambivalent—not least because it's the band's last album to feature bassist Gerard Smith, who died of lung cancer in April just days after it came out. That's not to say that Nine Types of Light doesn't have its high points. "No Future Shock" shows off their twitchiest postmillennial funk, and "Will Do" is simply one of the best songs they've ever written. But lots of the record has the feel of a band playing by rote. I may be holding them to a ridiculously high standard, but it's their own fault for having previously made such goddamn great records. —Miles Raymer

See our reviews of bands playing Friday

See our reviews of bands playing Saturday

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