Have you checked the weather forecast for Pitchfork this weekend? I have. Partly sunny skies, with temperatures in the upper 70′s and low 80′s for all three days. In other words, it’s looking to be a perfect weekend, weather-wise. Make sure you wear sunscreen! That’s a top priority. Also, you might want to be aware of what you are and are not allowed to bring with you onto the festival grounds. The last thing you want is to wait in line at the gate, only to be turned away because you brought a folding chair or something. Check out the rules concerning approved/prohibited items, along with policies related to photography/recording and other important bits of info. Also, are you aware that there’s a record fair, poster fair and craft fair all on the grounds of Union Park? Yes, this festival is about more than the performances and the food/drink necessary to keep you alive. Do some digging, especially if you’ve never attended before, so you can plan ahead. Speaking of planning ahead, here’s your preview guide for the music on Sunday. As I’ve mentioned previously, the artists are paired according to the hour of their time slot. I’ve included a little bit of information about each, and my official recommendations are denoted with a **. In case you missed them, here are links to the Artist Guide (aka playlist), Friday preview and Saturday preview. Stay informed, stay protected and stay hydrated!
Speedy Ortiz [Blue Stage, 1:00]**
Mutual Benefit [Green Stage, 1:00]
Sunday is the day with the most artist conflicts for me personally, and it starts immediately with Speedy Ortiz and Mutual Benefit. Stylistically speaking, the two bands are pretty different. Speedy Ortiz is throwback 90′s garage rock, in a style somewhat similar to Veruca Salt or The Breeders. Their album Major Arcana was one of last year’s finest, and they’ve already followed it up with the Real Hair EP. Speedy Ortiz are a pretty great live band as well. If you’re in the mood for some distorted rock and roll in the early afternoon hours of Sunday, check them out. Of course if you’re attending the festival all three days, by Sunday you might be pretty worn out already. Maybe you’d prefer to ease into the day with something you can just kind of sit down and enjoy. This is where Mutual Benefit comes in. Their album Love’s Crushing Diamond was one of my absolute favorites from last year, reviving the carefully orchestrated folk sound that was largely propagated by Sufjan Stevens several years back. The record is so warm and comforting. I’m not sure if it’s ideal festival material as you bake in the hot sun, but with a good breeze and some shade it could be quite lovely. I’m putting my vote towards Speedy Ortiz here only because of their energy, but honestly you can’t go wrong showing up early for either of these two bands.
DIIV [Red Stage, 1:45]
Perfect Pussy [Blue Stage, 1:55]**
The two bands performing in this time slot share a fascinating commonality that you might not realize. While the styles of music they play are very different, both of them craft songs based around sonic textures and the emotions that they can inspire. For DIIV, it’s about guitar-based dream pop melodies that drive forward with unflinching confidence. For Perfect Pussy, it’s about hardcore punk rock that’s so ear-piercingly loud that you believe the world might just be on fire. Both bands have lead vocalists, but you can barely make out what they’re saying on every song, either due to extreme reverb or simply being drowned out by everything else. The safe pick here is to go and see DIIV. Their 2012 debut album Oshin is pretty incredible and surprisingly accessible. They’re also working on new material, so expect them to try out a track or two on the crowd. Of course Pitchfork isn’t about safe. Having seen Perfect Pussy perform earlier this year, I can honestly tell you it was one of the loudest, most intense 18 minutes of my life. But there’s a brilliance and a sense of catharsis to it, largely in how the band legitimately gives you every last ounce of themselves on stage. If you get your hands on a lyric sheet, you would know that singer Meredith Graves is a true poet and she sings about some extremely heartwrenching stuff. Even if you can’t hear what she’s saying, you can FEEL it. Perfect Pussy’s set is likely to send a number of people running in the opposite direction. Those that stay will likely be rewarded with one of the best performances of the entire weekend. Bring earplugs specifically for this.
Deafheaven [Green Stage, 2:30]**
Isaiah Rashad [Blue Stage, 2:50]
Pitchfork likes to have a token metal band or two in the lineup every year, and for all practical purposes Deafheaven is that singular entity for 2014. But oh my what an entity they are. Last year’s Sunbather was probably the best metal album of the year, and certainly a top contender for best of the decade. It’s a 60-minute masterpiece that moves beyond what might be regarded as traditional metal and into the territory of post-rock and shoegaze without even blinking an eye. In other words, they reached across genre lines and managed to capture the attention and imaginations of a far larger group of music fans. With what looks to be an incredible set at Pitchfork, they’ll likely succeed in turning a whole lot more people onto their unique sound. If you’re not into loud guitars, you’re of course always welcome to check out Isaiah Rashad and his unique brand of hip hop. Much like a lot of the other hip hop artists on the lineup this year, Rashad stands out because he’s not afraid to get very emotional and confessional on his tracks. So instead of popping bottles of Cristal with some girls in a club to celebrate, you’re sitting alone in the middle of the night with a glass of whiskey, worried about personal crises or world issues. Outside of topical elements, the guy is a genuinely talented MC who can really string together a verse in a unique and impressive way. Both of these artists are great choices, so go with the one you might enjoy the most.
Earl Sweatshirt [Red Stage, 3:20]**
Dum Dum Girls [Blue Stage, 3:45]
It’s some kind of miracle that Earl Sweatshirt is performing at this festival. Just about a week ago, he announced that he was cancelling his remaining tour dates due to exhaustion. Initially that included his set at Pitchfork, but in the end he decided to honor the Chicago shows he had booked. There were probably some legal threats, and maybe even a bit of begging required to convince him, but he relented in the end. If you’re concerned that we may not be getting Earl Sweatshirt at his best, that’s sound logic. Ultimately though, even if he’s only operating at about 75% of his normal capacity he’ll still be worth checking out. His album Doris is proof of that. Plus, he’s still a teen barely old enough to drive, so I’m sure he can bounce back pretty quickly. When it comes to Dum Dum Girls, I’m a fan. They started out as this lo-fi garage rock band in a similar class with Vivian Girls, and have since evolved into a clean-cut pop-rock band with serious synth-pop leanings. They’ve had their songs featured in commercials, TV shows and movies, yet retreat from the spotlight just as quickly as they stepped into it. These days, the band is both pretty easy on the ears and pretty easy on the eyes. Interpret that however you’d like. I was all set to recommend them over an exhausted Earl Sweatshirt, but then I remembered about the complaints. It seems frontwoman Dee Dee Penny has had some vocal troubles for awhile now, and so their live shows can be a little hit-or-miss as a result. I’m holding out hope it’s going to be great, but can’t give them my full endorsement at this point. The risk factor is simply too high.
ScHoolboy Q [Green Stage, 4:15]
Jon Hopkins [Blue Stage, 4:45]**
ScHoolboy Q is a key part of what’s commonly referred to as Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Hippy” crew, which is basically a collection of talented rappers who are working to reinvent West Coast hip hop. Over the last few years, they’ve been doing just that, and Q is one of the most talented of the bunch. What I find most fascinating about him are the levels of contradiction in his work. His 2012 album Habits & Contradictions seemed to actively point them out, and then this year’s follow-up Oxymoron only pushed that idea further. Unlike many of the rappers on the Pitchfork lineup this year, Q is equally at home talking about the dangers and the dark side of gang life as he is celebrating it with wanton abandon. One minute he’s depressed about the street violence killing his friends, and the next he’s out on the corner selling drugs and essentially being part of the problem. These are largely characters and fictional stories that Q puts together, and in all honesty it’s made for a fascinating dichotomy. It will be intriguing to see which side of him he chooses to favor for the Pitchfork crowd. As far as Jon Hopkins goes, he’s also the sort of artist that shows off two very different sides of his personality. The man is a classical composer, producer and well-known keyboardist, working with everyone from Imogen Heap to Brian Eno to Coldplay, and that largely informs the sort of music he makes on his own. Think of it as electronica with a twist, because instead of simply chopping together samples of audio on a laptop or touch pad, Hopkins throws in splashes of keyboards here, or an orchestral section there. The results can be light, airy and fun, but there’s also a much darker and aggressive side he’s able to show off, in particular on his last album Immunity, which was one of last year’s best releases. In a festival setting, expect that sonic diversity to play particularly well, as one minute you’ll be relaxing in the shade while a glistening and summery track breezes by, and the next you’ll be up and dancing furiously, suddenly inspired by a hard-hitting beat. Sounds like a lot of fun to me. How about you?
Real Estate [Red Stage, 5:15]**
Majical Cloudz [Blue Stage, 5:45]
I’ve seen Real Estate perform in festival settings a couple of times before (including once at Pitchfork), and their particular brand of relaxed indie rock provides a very natural soundtrack to the day. If you can find a shady spot in the grass somewhere to just chill out and stare up at the sky, you’ll never want to get up again because all feels right with the world. Over the course of three albums now, Real Estate have been perfecting this sound, and it’s now reached a peak thanks to the nearly perfect Atlas record from earlier this year. It’s going to be a genuine pleasure hearing them perform the new stuff. Of course it could all go horribly wrong too, because if you’re stuck standing around in the hot sun somewhere, their lackadaisical style might not be enough to distract you from the pools of sweat building up across your body. It can’t be worse than going to see Majical Cloudz though. Don’t get me wrong, I love Majical Cloudz and their debut record Impersonator. The thing is, their music is completely allergic to sunlight, heat, and large crowds. Seriously, all of their songs are very slow, and so intensely personal in nature that an outdoor festival is the antithesis of where you should witness their performance. Devon Welsh is such an intense guy on stage too, and his ability to pull you into his dark and disturbed world is what makes every single Majical Cloudz performance so special. To witness that at 5:45 in the afternoon with the hot sun overhead? The power and intensity has to get stripped away, right?
Slowdive [Green Stage, 6:15]**
DJ Spinn [Blue Stage, 6:45]
The remainder of Sunday from this point onward is pretty much into the no brainer sort of territory. If you’ve never heard of Slowdive before, they were a shoegaze band that released three pretty great albums in the early 90′s, and then broke up. Now nearly 20 years later, they’ve decided to reunite, and Pitchfork will be their first show in the U.S. since 1995. That’s kind of a big deal, right? In a lot of ways, they fit in right alongside today’s modern bands like Deafheaven and Deerhunter, so you could almost say they’re more relevant than ever. Meanwhile on the Blue Stage, DJ Spinn will be playing some great electronica, if that’s your thing. He’s spent a lot of time working and collaborating with DJ Rashad, and the two of them were supposed to perform together at the festival until Rashad’s death turned it into a solo set. Expect Spinn to pay tribute to his close friend in grand fashion, meaning it should hopefully be an out of control, super fun dance party. Compelling as that sounds, Slowdive is just too important to pass up.
Grimes [Red Stage, 7:25]**
Hudson Mohawke [Blue Stage, 7:45]
Hudson Mohawke performed at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival as part of TNGHT, his collaborative project with Lunice. That earned him quite a bit more attention, especially since it helped him catch the ear of Kanye West. But at the end of 2013 the duo decided to go their separate ways once more, though the door remains open for them to get back together at any time. As a solo artist, HudMo is best known for his unique take on hip hop and R&B, often infusing those styles with other genres to form something truly original and unexpected. Where he ran into trouble was sometimes trying too hard or bringing in too many different elements so tracks ventured into overkill territory. Has he managed to scale back those tendencies in the last couple of years? Somewhat, yes. There is every chance he’ll put together a pretty great mix for his set at Pitchfork, but I still don’t think it will come close to matching what Grimes will be up to on the other side of the park. One of my absolute favorite things about Grimes is that she’s firmly committed to doing everything herself, and that means holding court on stage as she plays instruments, builds loops and modifies her vocals. 2012′s Visions put her onto everyone’s radar as an experimental pop star to watch, and since then she’s raised her stock considerably. She’s in the midst of recording a new album, and has already started to play some of the new songs in concert, to even more incredible response than before. Her new single “Go,” which was originally written for Rihanna, feels like a brilliant step forward in her sound as she inches more and more towards the mainstream. If there was ever a time to jump on the Grimes bandwagon, now would be it. She’ll be all over pop radio and playing massive venues before you know it.
Kendrick Lamar [Green Stage, 8:30]**
When Kendrick Lamar performed at the 2012 Pitchfork Music Festival, he was on the small Blue Stage sometime during the afternoon. His debut album wasn’t out yet, but he was already getting praised by people like Dr. Dre, claiming he was the next great talent in hip hop. Hell, even Lady Gaga showed up to Pitchfork to see his set. Now two years and one album later, Kendrick Lamar truly is the next great talent in hip hop. good kid, m.A.A.d. city turned out to be an incredible achievement, and he’s managed to follow it up with some stellar guest verses on a number of tracks, as well as some high profile touring with the likes of Kanye West. I’ve now seen him perform a total of 3 times, most recently last fall, and each set was better than the last. The man’s come a long way and has earned the success he’s achieved so far. Now he returns to Pitchfork on a victory lap, this time with full headliner status. Realistically speaking it should be a great show, he’s likely to bring out more than a few guests (see: ScHoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad), and might even preview a couple of tracks from his forthcoming sophomore album that’s currently being recorded. It will make for a fine end to a fine weekend.
FRIDAY: Day One Recap!