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Pitchfork Music Festival Kicks Off, Here Are Our Thoughts

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 13, 2012 6:00PM

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Sleigh Bells says hi to the crowd at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival. Photo by Jim Kopeny

By Tankboy and Kim Bellware

The Pitchfork Music Festival is on! Running from today through Sunday in Union Park the fest is drawing from all corners of the musical world, some better represented than others, and we've picked out a few we're personally stoked (or not so stoked) about. There is so much going on besides the music though so if you disagree with any of our picks you can always wander the Book Fort, record fair, Flatstock or any of a bunch of other options. If you're bored at any point this weekend and you're at Union Park then it's your own damn fault.

Friday, July 13

Best Reason To Be First At The Gates: Outer Minds

3:20 p.m. on the Blue Stage

We know door-buster entry isn't possible for everyone (hey, you gotta work—it's cool). If you do have the flexibility to hit the fest ahead of rush hour, the home-grown garage rock of Outer Minds will make the effort more than worth your while. While the group keeps rugged, jangly guitars at its core, Outer Minds spins out tunes full of eerie, 1960s California psych, and sun-dappled melodies that never become pop songs, proper. An extra treat: unlike the raw-voiced sing-shouts of garage rock favorites, Outer Minds can harmonize like a true-blue vocal outfit. -Kim Bellware

Best Chance To Hear Some Aural Sorcery: Willis Earl Beale
4:15 p.m. on the Blue Stage

By now many Chicagoans have heard—or at least heard of—Willis Earl Beale. Beale's ultra-rapid rise in popularity and somewhat eccentric stage presence (he's been know to perform in a cape, wearing sunglasses, or whipping a belt) thankfully haven't overshadowed his tremendous vocal gifts. Beale sings powerfully, viscerally and often raw (in a way that conjures "honest" rather than "rough"). When he gets into a flow, it's less like rapping than spoken-word poetry. With his lo-fi, anachronistic reel-to-reel backing track, Beale also sounds totally vulnerable despite the powerful charge he transmits. -Kim Bellware

Best Way To Pretend Time Warp To The '90s: The Olivia Tremor Control
4:35 p.m. on the Green Stage

Like many of the founding projects by Elephant Six, The Olivia Tremor Control burned brightly for a few at albums and then fell off the face of the earth. But now the group is back, and they've brought their inspired-by-dreams, jangle pop magic with them (and all manner of sweet '90s nostalgia). If you're hitching a ride on the OTC bandwagon, there's not a whole lot you need to know about a band that so successfully turns out happy, feel-good tunes. True, some of the analogs get a little tired since much of OTC is a shameless ripoff of The Beatles, but if you dissent…well then you're just that guy/gal at Pitchfork who tried to stir shit by saying "I hate the Beatles." Pretend you're a co-ed in Georgia during the Clinton administration and dig the ride. -Kim Bellware

Loudest Duo Having The Most Fun: Japandroids
6:15 p.m. on the Blue Stage

Japandroids latest, Celebration Rock, sounds exactly like it is named. Most duos these days seem rooted in garage rock, but these two dudes have their Freedom Rock comp within arms length at all times. Boisterous, fun and filled with fist-pumping glee, we predict this set will garner the band a large number of new converts to their music. -Tankboy

Best Reason To Skip Japandroids: Big K.R.I.T.
6:25 p.m. on the Green Stage

All love and respect to Japandroids—one of the most anticipated acts of the fest—Big K.R.I.T. deserves your ear holes. Fringe observers may be tempted to take a pass if they hear Big K.R.I.T. using some of the familiar tropes: rhymes about money and materialism, hooks that drop too predictably and the familiar ratatat snare drum beat. But that's only a slice of Big K.R.I.T.'s game; he pulls in spicy brass arrangements and, doleful piano, with well-placed R&B backing vocals to add some gravitas to his less boastful numbers. Not quite as buoyant as his Fellow Dirty South rappers like Ludicrous or Outkast (and with the ability to tug at your heart with tracks like "Rich Dad, Poor Dad") Big K.R.I.T. zigs when you expect him to zag. His music can have a little weight to it, but at least it's something you can feel. -Kim Bellware

The Sad Side Of The '80s Will Never Die: The Purity Ring
8:20 p.m. on the Blue Stage

It's too soon to tell if PurityRing will have staying power, but their debut showcases the band virtually raiding the 4AD back catalog to construct icy, towering monuments that cross '80s synth-pop with deep, melancholic beats. It's half breathy stratosphere and half underground cavern. We admit that upon an initial listen we briefly threw the group aside, but The Purity Ring sneaked back into our rotation and a deeper familiarity with their songs led to a deeper appreciation. We're curious to see how this detached beauty translates live. -Tankboy

Best Chance To Catch A Nap: Feist
8:20 p.m. on the Blue Stage

Who would have thought Peaches' one-time roommate would turn out to be the soothing voice of the iPod generation. Honestly, we respect a lot of her work, she was electric when she would perform with Broken Social Scene and her work with Stephen Colbert is arguably her finest television appearance to date, but as the years have gone by her music has grown more, um, adult. And sleepy. - Tankboy

Saturday, July 14

Best Reason To Lay In The Grass For a Listen: Atlas Sound
2:30 p.m. on the Green Stage

Deerhunter guitarist Brandford James Cox definitely flips the "mellow" switch when he morphs into his solo project, Atlas Sound. More feisty than shoe gaze but less beefy than rrrock, Atlas Sound is stream-of-consciousness lyrics played from a dream pop cloud. Cox could lull a hysterical toddler to sleep with his voice, but the drifting guitars and fluttery piano are complex and cool enough to keep you awake. It's easy to find a groove with Atlas Sound, and with no requisite fist jabbing, jumping or full-body grooving, you can get a great listening experience from a comfy blanket while the music drift over over you. - Kim Bellware

Obligatory Too Much Metal For Just One Fist Moment: Liturgy
2:50 p.m. on the Blue Stage

Bang your head. We're gonna enjoy watching sweaty kids covering their ears as Liturgy slams and screams their way through their set. The Brooklyn group takes huge epic movement of guitar and launches it above a wash of cymbals and drums. Deep within the storm singer and guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix desperately tries to push his screams against the waves of noise. Taken all together the mixture inflicts aural vertigo on the listener as you tumble beneath the layers of sound. Should be a good set. - Tankboy

Go Ahead And Practice Your Watusi: Cults
3:20 p.m. on the Red Stage

While Outer Minds is mining Mamas and the Papas-style vintage rock of the '60s, Cults zeroes in on the Girl Group sound and nails the lovelorn vocals, echo-y drums and finger snaps. Singer Madeline Folline doesn't sing with the tilted-jaw confidence of The Shangri-Las or The Angels, but her poppy vocals about boys, loneliness and longing are straight from a Ronnie Spector crib sheet. Thanks to a few extra synth elements and experimental pop touches, the New York duo even manages to keep a modern edge that sounds fresh rather than recycled. -Kim Bellware

Stand Wherever The Hell You Want Because The Music Is Gonna Get Ya: Wild Flag
5:15 p.m. on the Red Stage

For festival audiences, the goodness or awfulness of a particular set typically has a lot to do with where and how you're positioned in relation to the music. Some artists' energy just doesn't transmit past the first few rows, while other times it's simply a matter of acoustics. But when it's Wild Flag is onstage, don't worry about any of that: the sound (not to mention the energy) will find you. Janet Weiss' drums will thunder well beyond the confines of the Red Stage, while Mary Timony and Carrie Brownstein's guitar licks are going to lick more than a few eardrums of folks standing by the outer ring of Porta Potties (and don't worry—you'll hear Rebecca Cole, too). But Wild Flag aren't simply loud; the band has an energy that crackles, explodes and grabs a hold of anyone within earshot. -Kim Bellware

Why The Heck Is This Duo So Quiet: Sleigh Bells
6:15 p.m. on the Green Stage

We like their albums, but we've seen Sleigh Bells a number of times now and every single time we've wanted to scream, "TURN THAT SHIT UP!" As one of our friends said, when your pre-programmed music sounds like it's distorted and into the red but the actual volume is low the whole thing reeks of image over substance. This is supposed to be big, dumb rock but we have yet to see the band really blow our ears off. Here's hoping Saturday does just that. - Tankboy

They Got The Rhythm Back!: Hot Chip
7:25 p.m. on the Red Stage

After a couple quieter albums, Hot Chip returned with the super groovy album In Our Heads. They've thrown out most of the navel-gazing and rediscovered their inner Prince to create a winning collection of bouncy synthpop tunes. If you're looking for a set that will inspire excited dancing as far as the eye can see across the dusk in Union Park this is not to be missed. - Tankboy

We're Scratching Our Head But We Think We Like It: Grimes
8:40 p.m. on the Blue Stage

Grimes is the sort of critical darling we usually hate. The microcosm of music writers tend to champion at least one challenging artist a year and write about them as if their every note is bursting with genius. Grimes is one of those artists right now. But you know what? There is something in there! We can't put our finger on it, and admit we've enjoyed her music far more when it's in the background but we're curious to see what her work transforms into live on stage. We can't really recommend her set since we're not sure what will transpire, but you can bet we'll be there. -Tankboy

Sunday, July 15

Go Wandering In Your Own Imagination: Dirty Beaches
1 p.m. on the Blue Stage

Alex Zhang Hungtai has said his music is inspired by travelogues and the feelings of wandering and displacement from having lived in so many different countries. Full of blues-y notes and shadowy instrumental effects, Dirty Beaches is like a black and white dream of an abandoned vacation resort in 1950s Hawaii...covered in gauze. Hungtai's vocals are deep, somber and full of memory, but his crooning that occasionally slows to speech adds a wistful sweetness that quietly sneaks up on you. -Kim Bellware

If Sweden Does Pop, Then Denmark Is Punk: Iceage
2:30 p.m. on the Green Stage

Iceage's debut sounds like it was recorded in a cave with musical gear that only goes to 11. Buried beneath this din is a twisted melodic heart that's filled with restless energy. It took us a while to uncover the noisy virtue in the band and see the beauty within their songs. We're looking forward to seeing them onstage and add another dimension to our experience with their music. And we fully expect them to tear shit up. - Tankboy

If You Feel Like Dancing, Shouting (And Maybe Surfing The Crowd): The Oh Sees
2:50 p.m. on the Blue Stage

When you're ready to blow off some steam and get a little dirtier, The Oh Sees are the soundtrack you seek. Always weird and often kind of dark, this is the kind of group that truly thrives in a festival setting. Much like their raucous set last year at The Logan Square Monument, expect The Oh Sees to obliterate their drum kit, and then screech and alternately harmonize through a handful of songs. Whether the tracks are heavier on the complex arrangements or some of The Oh Sees simpler, stripped-down material, the scuzzy, pop-sensible rock will easily snap you out of the mid-day lull. -Kim Bellware

Reunion That 99 Percent Of Attendees Probably Don't Realize Is A Reunion: Chavez
5:15 p.m. on the Red Stage

If any label ended up defining what would serve as the basis for most Pitchfork writers' early musical education it was Matador Records. Their track record in the '90s brought us everything from Pavement to Liz Phair to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to Silkworm to Chavez. Chavez was all guitars, and weird off-kilter changes and it made you want to drive really fast or go running through the surf daring the waves to take you down. The group disbanded long ago but Matador reissued some of the band's early material recently so what better reason to get the boys back together onstage? If they play "Nailed to the Blank Spot" you will see one happy Tankboy bouncing around in front of the stage. - Tankboy

Run To The Front Of The Stage To See How The Musical Sausage Is Made: Araabmuzik
6:15 p.m. on the Green Stage

With button pushing and knob twisting, electronic music is much more compelling when it's heard rather than when it's seen. Araabmuzik, meanwhile, puts the fun back into seeing how electronic music is made. The producer turned performer has a certain elegance to his motions as he taps out beats on his MPC drum machine. Like a hyper piano whiz, Araabmuzik (aka Abraham Orellana) flits his fingers over the MPC pads in what appears to be random--but there's definitely a method to the breakneck speed. If there wasn't, Araabmuzik wouldn't have tremendous, lively beats pumping from his speakers. -Kim Bellware