As mid-July rolls around, it is time to make the annual migration up to Chicago for Pitchfork Music Festival. From time to time, a few acts that play this festival end up making their way down to C-U for Pygmalion. We’re going to go up there this weekend and see what’s what with Pitchfork, a festival that continues excel year after year.
I put together C-U’s version of Pitchfork last year. Once again, for 2013’s installment, I’ve created a pairing system of sorts, taking Pitchfork artists performing this weekend and pairing them up with an artist from C-U that would fit well if the bill was to ever exist around here. Not a simple task with the wide variety of artists on Pitchfork’s bill, but we enjoyed doing it last year, so we’re giving it another go this time around. Taking venues typically used for Pygmalion, combined with other venues like Error Records, I’ve added them in the mix, too. Plus, when referring to Mike ‘N Molly’s, I mean the beer garden.
We’re anticipating an enjoyable weekend again this year, hopefully rain-free. Regardless, we’ll enjoy ourselves no matter what. We’ll be bringing full coverage of the event to SP next week, so stay tuned for a full review plus photos. Here’s our preview, and certainly, we can’t catch every act, but we’re going to do our best to see as many quality sets as possible this weekend.
Friday, July 19th
With the release of a couple solid records over the past few years, Daughn Gibson has made his way into the festival circuit and kicks off Pitchfork 2013. Downright droned vocals from him, and reminds me a lot of a Bill Callahan-esque approach to his music. His rugged sound and dusted up tracks unfold quite well throughout his first album All Hell, and this year’s decent follow-up Me Moan. Pairing former New Ruins frontman Elzie Sexton’s project Babylon, Texas makes perfect sense here. Outdoors at Mike ‘N Molly’s on a summer night in July? It would be an ideal setting.
Jangle guitar rocker Mac DeMarco is riding high off of the decent amount of acclaim garnered for his appropriately titled second album, 2, from last year. The music he crafts is simple enough to digest, while he has the capability to put together some impressive stuff. When he’s on, he’s on. For instance, “Ode To Viceroy” is the signature Mac DeMarco track. Nothing too wild in the toolbox here, but he uses what he’s got wisely. Pair him up with another simple and skuzzed out lo-fi act like local surf-rock outfit Kowabunga! Kid and you’ve got a real winner.
Chicago native Angel Olsen put together one of the more captivating and gripping releases of 2012 with her record Half Way Home, which demonstrated her ability to maintain such steadiness throughout her songs, while having the ability to unleash the beast of a voice she has and blow your hair back and give you goosebumps. Her blend of singer-songwriter techniques feels vintage and rooted in classic folk, and she really pulled one out with her latest album. Pair her up with one of the more charming singer-songwriters in C-U in Emily Otnes in a more intimate venue like Cowboy Monkey; the room would do wonders.
Woods sound exactly like you think they do, but I don’t want to make another poor analogy about how the band sounds like we should all gather around a campfire and sing songs … in the woods. Their music is an indicator of how much you can get out of a few great guitar tones and a low-down folk rock sound. They run one of the more impressive labels, Woodsist Records, home to a bunch of great past and present acts (Real Estate, The Babies, White Fence). Putting Woods with a local twanged-out rock outfit The Curses for this show, and let them heat up the HighDive.
There are a ton of ways you could describe a band like Wire. There’s no shortage of compliments or acknowledgments of what they have done for contemporary post-punk venturers, but they’re not even slowing down enough for others to catch up. From the band’s staple releases back in the late seventies, even though decades have passed, their new material holds its own, no doubt. Their new record Change Becomes Us is a testament to that; just listen to it. Local rock legends in their own right would go wonderfully here, as Terminus Victor continues to make great sounds as their legacy continues to build in town.
In one of the more interesting transitions in Pitchfork this year, going from Wire to Joanna Newsom is a pretty far leap sonically. Newsom’s harp-folk doings will be interesting to witness outdoors, but luckily for her, there are no other artists playing during her set to overpower her delicate sounds. Her last album Have One on Me was released to critical acclaim, ranking her amongst the year’s well-received releases in 2010. I’ve paired up Megan Johns and her full band Moonwish as a good match, pairing up some acoustic tones with Newsom.
Closing out night one of Pitchfork is the legendary Björk. This will certainly be one of the shows of the weekend considered to be a “spectacle” over all else. Perfectly satisfying in that realm, but it will make for an intriguing experience. Her last record was released a couple of years ago, and the shrill of her voice continues to hollow out a place amongst past and present indie rock Gods and Godesses. Not many places would be able to contain this performance in C-U, but the HighDive outdoor annex would come as close to sufficing, while not being the Assembly Hall. Although there aren’t a lot of options here to support Björk, I’ll go the ambient/experimental route with Betamax Babes.
Saturday, July 20th
Straight-up noise punk White Lung crosses with some pretty thrashy portions of hardcore at times, and have emerged on this year’s bill at Pitchfork. Their previous record, Sorry, came out in 2012, but they’re not sorry about your eardrums, most likely. Pair them up with math-punks Hank. here and they provide their own backdrop of punk-infused rock to join. Error would suit this quite well, with mosh pits aplenty to be expected.
Another band that is difficult to pin down sometimes is Pissed Jeans, but damn, their tone is off the wall. Noise punk through and through, they have an interesting crossover appeal to anyone interested in rock music generally. Not the easiest pill to swallow, but certainly one that is worthwhile if you’re up for it. Sludge punks Dino Bravo would be a good fit, and punk venue Urbana-Champaign IMC would accomodate the madness quite well.
American singer-songwriter Matthew Houck’s working moniker Phosphorescent has been putting out solid material for years now. In 2013, he finally got the Pitchfork nod, and for good reason. Muchacho is one of the finest records of the year, hands down, at this point. “Song for Zula,” “The Quotidian Beasts,” “A Charm/A Blade”? Incredible songs. This is a relatively early slot on Saturday for them, and certainly the early afternoon heat will be burning down on us for this show. The Fights have a mixture of alt-country and folk in the local scene, so they get the nod to join up with Phosphorescent in my mind. The HighDive would serve well here.
…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead
Prog-punk legends of sorts have been releasing music here and there over the past few years, most recently with the unveiling of Lost Songs, a compliation of some, well, lost songs of theirs. Flashes of brilliance from Trail of Dead, without a doubt, are records like Source Tags & Codes and Madonna, which are basically the best places to start if you’re unfamiliar. I revisited ST&C for the first time in a few years the other day — it’s still terrific. Pairing them with straight up punks Horrible Things makes the most sense, and put them on the big stage at The Canopy Club to fill the room with noise.
One of the most brutally forceful bands of the festival this year is Savages, the post-punk juggarnaut out of London. Although they’ve been hanging around for a couple of years now, their track “Husbands,” released last year, gained them a ton of attention for the strength of that track. The release that came this year, Silence Yourself, is a contender. One of the more anticipated sets of the weekend, without a doubt, on my list. Pairing them up with a post-hardcore outfit like Enta and cramming it in at the beautiful Channing-Murray would be terrific in Urbana if this show happened here.
We’re prepared for METZ to visit Urbana for this year’s Pygmalion Music Festival, and they’ll be playing in the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center with Hank. and The Stars, They Beckon. This is an easy portion of the preview, frankly, because it is going to happen. It’s not hypothetical. Hank. worked well with another punk band, White Lung, earlier, so The Stars, They Beckon are left here to pair up.
Swans put together one of the more inaccessable-yet-highly-acclaimed records of 2012 with their expansive The Seer, which ranges a triumphant two hours in length. Sheesh. It is a piece of work, quite honestly, and not easily digestable by any means by the average listener. Truth is, describing Swans as an experimental-post-punk band doesn’t really do it justice — they’re just straight-up beasts, and they own it. Take Care is one of those in-between acts locally, crossing between post-rock, garage rock, and hardcore, amongst other booming influences, so it would work here. Let your mind be blown as you stand inside the HighDive to witness a spectacle like this.
Another Pygmalion 2013 act here with The Breeders, and a terrific one at that. The Breeders are touring in support of their stellar 1993 release and 2013 twenty-year anniversary of Last Splash, which they’ll be performing in its entirety at both festivals. Common Loon is opening for them when they venture down to Urbana to perform at the Canopy Club in September, so if it’s not broke, why fix it?
Slowcore phenoms that make up Low are featured at this year’s festival after the release of their solid Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) produced The Invisible Way. After years and years of albums, some good and some just OK, Low have prooven that their career is a slow build of mometum. The newer material might not sound as fluid as Drums and Guns or The Things We Lost in the Fire, or even similar to 2011’s C’Mon, but they’ve proven that longevity pays off. Locals Anna Karenina/Anna Karina have their own brand of slowcore with a bit of kick, and Low once performed at Channing-Murray for Pygmalion 2009, so that feels like a solid fit.
She might have the last name Knowles, and her sister might be the one who is basically killing it at all times, but Solange knows what the hell she’s doing. A name can only get you so far, and as she’s shed her last name for her stage moniker, she’s doing it the right way. Last year brought about a short-but-sweet EP, True, from Solange, and pairing her with a hip-hop ensemble only seemed appropriate. The Struggle gets the nod here. We’ve seen awesome hip-hop parties happen inside of the HighDive (Big Freedia is enough to make this a fact forever), so that’s why it’s the venue of choice.
Belle & Sebastian
Scotland’s indie twee-pop sweethearts Belle & Sebastian weren’t necessarily a surprise headliner for this year’s festival because of their legacy, but I have to admit — this year’s group was a bit out of left field. Regardless, B&S have experienced their fair share of success, while appearing as if they don’t really want to belong in the spotlight all the time. 2010’s Write About Love was their most recent record, which experienced moderate acclaim. B&S followers still hold If You’re Feeling Sinister against their cardigans with ferociousness. Elsinore has a particular brand of indie rock that would mesh well here, and the Canopy Club for Belle & Sebastian might not even be a big enough venue, but it would serve a purpose for intimacy for this particularly well-known band.
Sunday, July 21st
Starting out day three early with a DJ is a pretty great way to wake up after a two-day show-going binge. Either choice of DJ Rashad or fellow Chicago hip-hop emcee Tree would be a solid way to go, but DJ Rashad is a bit more eclectic than a straight-up hip-hop show. Kirkwood West puts together some deep house music, which pairs well here. Cowboy is a solid choice for a venue because it’s close-quartered and has a history of hosting the Deep series of local artists.
Another up-and-comer featured early in the day at Pitchfork, as well as being featured as an opening act for The Breeders for Pygmalion 2013 at the Canopy Club, Foxygen has it going on this year. The band issued their nostalgia-driven We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic this year, which was warmly received. For good reason, too. The infusion of drugged-out grooves is suffocating. The Dirty Feathers would be a good garage rock outfit to pair up with Foxygen here, and outside at Mike ‘N Molly’s would be a great setting for a warm summer evening.
Although the decision to see Foxygen or Autre Ne Veut is a pretty tough toss-up, I’ll include this one in the preview as well because it could go either way. Autre Ne Veut is the glitched out synth pop project of Brooklyn’s Arthur Ashin and a couple of others in a backing band. Within the first five minutes of his debut, Anxiety, it’s a party. “Play By Play” is oozing with R&B and catchiness. It needs nothing else. Locals That’s No Moon blend rock and synth pop together for a brand of catchiness themselves. Cowboy Monkey is intimate enough for Autre Ne Veut, considering he isn’t as well known as you might think (even with performing at Pitchfork).
Killer Mike released a brutal force of ragged rap bangers last year on R.A.P. Music, and with 2013 bringing along another collaboration with El-P (also performing on Sunday) with Run the Jewels, he’s been quite busy blowing up. He packs a huge attitude with his delivery, and he doesn’t give a damn about it. Just listen the hell up to what he’s saying if you know what’s good for you. Local rapper Young Blu would work well here, as he’s blowing up a bit himself within the local scene and beyond. The Canopy Club’s main stage is where the action would be happening for Killer Mike & co.
Blood Orange is the project of Dev Hynes, who has taken on a variety of monikers over the years. The last I’d heard of Hynes was when he was still taking up the name Lightspeed Champion, a project that fell off the map in a lot of ways. Test Icicles before that (not a joke). Blood Orange is a much more promising endeavor, and since the release of Coastal Grooves in 2011, he’s been recording with Solange. Boom. Wicked Walls are a bit more straightforward than Blood Orange’s version of indie rock might go, but they benefit each other in a positive way.
Katie Crutchfield is Waxahatchee. Her solumn acoustic rock and lazy vocals remind me of something out of the mid-90s, and her release from this year, Cerulean Salt, has compounded what she did previously with American Weekend. This is a surprisingly late spot for her, as I would have expected her to be billed as one of the first acts of the day. Granted, she’s in a good position over on the small stage to do her thing. Lo-fi indie rockers from C-U Mille Nomi would make a good pairing here, as they’re along similar lines with female vocals and a dirty sound.
Yo La Tengo
Ah, one of the most anticipated of the weekend finally arrives on Sunday with Yo La Tengo. They are simply one of the best bands out there — no shame in making that claim. Their consistency has been miraculous, and 2013 brings upon a new release from the band, simply titled Fade. Kind of perfect. For some reason, a lot of what Motes does reminds me of YLT’s attitude and delivery, so that’s why I’ve put them here. YLT performed at Krannert Center a few years back for Pygmalion, so why not host it there again if it was possible?
This band’s output got exponentially better from their debut album to the release of last year’s Something, which destroyed their debut in basically every way possible. Better songs and songwriting, lyrics, and vocals just on all together, and just a better sense of who they were, rather than that song you might have heard in an iPod commercial way back when (yeah, no one really remembers, right?). Although locals Elsinore recently opened up for them in Indianapolis (hence, I’ve already used them for the preview), the 92s would be a good indie rock band to join them here if it happened in town.
Another artist who actually has been to C-U here in Toro Y Moi. The chillwave project started as a form rooted in that back with his debut Causers of This, while more recent releases have been more pop/R&B infused than its predecessors. He basically injected what he had before with funk and disco, and came out with a new form with each release. Mash that up with Sun Stereo, who has a bit of funk and keyboard driven rock of their own. Toro Y Moi fit well over at the Canopy Club a couple of Pygmalions ago, so we’ll put it there again.
Another couple of “spectacle”-type shows lined up to close out the weekend, starting with the ever-controversial M.I.A. on Sunday evening prior to R. Kelly. Whether you love or hate M.I.A., there are certain things to be said about a stage performance that can be matched up with the wild production methods and releases from an artist. For that, I have to see what this show will be all about this weekend. Is it hip-hop? It’s not easy to describe. We all know “Paper Planes,” sure, but M.I.A. has more than that in the tank. Local emcee Klevah would fit here, and the HighDive outdoor stage would be a fit here when not many other places would.
I recently had the opportunity to see the world-famous R. Kelly on stage for the first time in my life at Bonnaroo. I have to say, I was thoroughly impressed with what he brought to the table. Was it weird at times? Certainly. He started the show on a crane about fifty feet above the stage (maybe more), and sang “Ignition (Remix)” for about two minutes, then stopped the song entirely, and took about five minutes to get down while the crane was being lowered. Then the rest of the set went on as usual. The dude is a performer, no doubt about it. I imagine his spot here at Pitchfork will be along the same lines as that performance, but totally worthwhile in every aspect. Pairing him up with a local hip-hop emcee like the staple Jay Moses only makes sense, and only a stage like the outside stage at HighDive could contain him. Maybe a spot at the Assembly Hall, although that is not ideal. Canopy Club could hang, but why contain him to an indoor facility? It’s R. Kelly. He’s the boss.