Sunday at Pitchfork Music Festival is set to be just about the sexiest day of any music festival ever. To quote Tracy Morgan, “Somebody’s gonna get pregnant!” The lineup is stacked with all kinds of R&B and freeform jazz that’s designed to put you in the mood for some lovin’. Not sure how perfectly that pairs with sun and 85 degree temperatures, but we’ll find out, right? At least things will be steamy one way or another. If you’ve been to the fest for two days already, the generally slower and more relaxed vibe on Sunday should be a nice change of pace. The slightly later start time than usual is an added benefit. Gates may open at noon, but the first music doesn’t start until 1:45, so sleep in an extra 90 minutes or at the very least stay off your feet for that period of time. As with the other two days though, there are some serious benefits to showing up early and catching those first bands of the day. Join me past the jump for the hour-by-hour breakdown of who’s playing when, and what artists you simply can’t miss.
Thanks for reading. If you’re headed to Pitchfork this weekend, I’ll see you in Union Park!
Artists are arranged by set times. The color of their names indicates what stage they are performing on.
** = don’t miss this artist
^^ = see this artist if you can
1:55 Sun Ra Arkestra^^
New Yorker Aaron Maine is the man behind the Porches name. It’s a project that’s been around for close to a decade now, but is just now starting to hit it big. Prior to the release of his Domino debut Pool earlier this year, Maine put out at least eight records, though it’s a little tough to put together an official count given that at least a couple seem to have (mostly) vanished from the internet. In many ways it feels as if those previous albums were all in preparation for this new one, which has earned a wealth of critical acclaim and placed Porches on an exclusive list of rising artists. The songs on Pool might best be described as dance tracks for lonely people. You could also use the album title to show the fluidity and spacious grandeur that a majority of the tracks exhibit. Synths and other electronics surge and swirl, while guitars, when present, are often relegated to the background. It’s a bit of a departure for Maine, whose earlier efforts were more entrenched in the world of lo-fi folk. The directional shift is all too purposeful, yet still manages to capture the intimacy and introspection that Porches has been known for across earlier efforts. If you’re looking to have a little fun and catch a set with some energy to help pull you out of a hangover or just general tiredness, Porches is a great place to start your day.
Here’s what I can tell you about Sun Ra the man. He was an experimental jazz musician and bandleader for his Arkestra up until his death in 1993. He had roots in Chicago, moving to the city in the 1940’s and helping to establish a jazz scene. Since his death the Sun Ra Arkestra have continued to tour and perform his music in tribute. The collective is about a dozen members, primarily older jazz musicians you could definitely call “lifers” because that’s how long they’ve been playing for. That makes them an extremely talented group, and they carry on Sun Ra’s philosophy of experimenting with sounds and seeing where they lead. That means they deviate from established tracks often in favor of free-form compositions that provide a wholly unique take on the material. You’ll never see the same Sun Ra Arkestra show twice, which is exciting and refreshing. Of course some detours aren’t always worth taking, and there’s always the possibility for things to go off the rails for a bit before they return to the primary melody. The opposite is true more often anyways. Chances are you’ll be completely blown away by these talented musicians, but your decision to check them out should be based on an ability to tolerate jazz plus the understanding that the progression might take awhile to really get going. In other words, you could be bored by portions of it. Somehow I think they’ll try and keep things moving though, what with the outdoor festival atmosphere and all.
Over the course of eight albums, Woods have become what many might consider to be a bad thing in the music industry – reliable and consistent. With each new release at a rate of nearly one per year, they’ve delivered quality collections of psych-folk songs. It’s also tempting to ignore them after awhile, because such clockwork precision over a lengthy period of time doesn’t yield a whole lot of buzz or hype. Yet they keep going because enough of us continue to listen. Their songs are equal parts relaxing and addictive, which yields plenty of repeat listens even if they’re not the first band you turn on after a long day. Their new (and ninth) album City Sun Eater in the River of Light could be considered a departure of sorts, as they trade up their traditional sound for something more inspired by reggae and jazz. The twist is invigorating. It’ll be interesting to see how that translates on stage. Woods are Pitchfork Music Festival veterans, having performed in 2011 and 2013. I saw both performances, and they were solid, if somewhat unremarkable. Let me put it this way: they’re the perfect band for 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon.
Chicago band Homme is comprised of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, both of whom have made significant contributions to the local music scene across a wide variety of projects (Marrow, Chance the Rapper’s The Social Experiment) these last few years. Their artistic collaboration as Homme is essentially the two of them interweaving their guitars and voices, with no real percussion or any other instruments to speak of. Last fall’s self-titled debut EP was intended to craft something that focused on experimentation and exploration. They largely succeeded in that mission, as many chaotic and loud moments are balanced out by some dreamier and more psychedelic flourishes. Their harmonies form the core of their sound, and provide reason enough to deliver some local love by checking out their set at Pitchfork.
3:20 Kamasi Washington**
From the free-form jazz of Sun Ra Arkestra to the jazz-influenced new album from Woods, the early afternoon hours on Sunday at Pitchfork are littered with acts performing or paying tribute to this singular and generally underrepresented style of music. Toss Kamasi Washington and Thundercat (see below) into the mix, and this entire day should make for a modern jazz lover’s dream. Washington has been a key figure in the jazz world for a few years now, but only recently he’s truly begun to get the sort of recognition he deserves. His work with Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar (To Pimp A Butterfly) have elevated both of those artists to produce their best work to date. His own record, the three-hour opus appropriately called The Epic, is a tribute to legends like John Coltrane and Miles Davis. Yet it also has some very modern leanings in its clear hip hop influences. In many ways the man is the epitome of contemporary jazz. No matter how you feel about the style of music, I do encourage you to at least give Washington’s set a try. You’re almost guaranteed to walk away impressed on some level.
On the surface, London singer-songwriter NAO’s music bears all the familiar marks of traditional R&B and soul. She falls firmly within those loosely defined borders, though also rises well above and beyond them thanks to a wealth of talent both personally and those she surrounds herself with. Her 2014 debut EP So Good was produced in part by the hypertalented A.K. Paul, brother of the elusive Jai Paul, who achieved mythic legend status thanks to the very limited amount of incredible music that’s been produced under his name. But it’s NAO’s ability to write a highly potent song and then enhance it further with a smoother-than-silk, octave-breaking voice that truly causes her to stand out among her peers. Her latest EP February 15 mixed ’90s-style R&B with dashes of funk and dubstep to come out sounding fresh and innovative. To put it another way, NAO is a star on the rise, and you’d be wise to see her now before she becomes huge.
4:15 Holy Ghost!
4:45 Empress Of **
The four o’clock hour at Pitchfork is going to be an all-out dance party. Holy Ghost! kicks things off with their disco-centric tracks that bear a resemblance to their DFA Records labelmates LCD Soundsystem. Sure, they’re not as well-known or prolific as James Murphy, but their intentions are good and their beats are solid. Upbeat and joyful with a dash of sparkling ’80s pop thrown in for good measure, their recent EP Crime Cutz marked an important step forward following the more introspective material on their last full length, 2013’s Dynamics. With the understanding that this is a festival set, expect the duo to crank the hits, and maybe even throw in some of their prolific remixes of tracks from the likes of Blood Orange, Katy Perry and Cut Copy for good measure.
Lorely Rodriguez is the human being behind the Empress Of name. Her debut EP Systems from 2013 introduced her as a smooth synth-pop wizard, similar in style and sound to Purity Ring, Grimes and Phantogram. But two years and a full-length album later, it’s become clear we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her talents. Rodriguez’s record Me oozes with confidence as a singer, songwriter and producer, with stronger/rawer lyrics, engaging vocals and experimental shifts in sound and genre. Yet it’s also got an extremely strong pop foundation at the heart of it, with plenty of songs to get your body moving. I’m excited to hear how all of that translates into her live performance. You should be too.
5:15 Neon Indian^^
5:45 The Hotelier**
As one of the originators behind the once-hyped “chillwave” subgenre of dance music, Alan Palomo has seen his share of ups and downs over the last several years. Neon Indian skyrocketed to indie fame with the debut album Psychic Chasms back in 2009, and the celebratory vibe of his live shows placed him in a similar category with Passion Pit and MGMT. Like many musical trends, chillwave died a quick and painful death, and many of the artists that had benefited from its popularity also fell by the wayside for failing to shift with the tide. Palomo hung in there though, deftly navigating the trending waters of synth-pop with a slightly more subdued sophomore effort Era Extrana. The four years he took to record VEGA INTL. Night School represented both a reboot and an enhancement. He’s better than he was before. Stronger. Shinier. The influences more diverse and the beats more insistent. The album is a 51-minute dance party around the world, traversing Italo house, Jamaican reggae, American disco and a whole host of other uptempo rhythms. Neon Indian live shows were already a blast before. These days they’re reaching a whole new level.
Though the term “emo” is a bit antiquated at this point, those of us who were, have been or currently are emo kids still understand what that implies. There are plenty of bands making music today – great bands, actually – that continue to carry the torch and channel all of their anguish into punk-infused songs. The Hotelier is one such band. Their 2014 album Home Like Noplace Is There reflected back on tragedies experienced during early adulthood and how easy it is to destroy one’s life because of them. The intensity and white-hot anguish channeled into those songs was altogether shocking and powerful. Goodness is their latest opus, and it feels in many ways like a continuation of the storyline based around the idea that once you’ve lost everything you’re free to do anything. The focus is on rebuilding and finding your way again and moving on after your world was destroyed. Yes it can be excruciating at times, and the way Christian Holden spits out lyrics they can feel downright acidic. The same goes for the drums and guitars, which drive with such ferocity you can’t help but be compelled by their earnestness. More than anything else though, The Hotelier are simply a great rock band. Their music oozes with vitality, as do their live shows. If there’s one place where the crowd will go nuts with bodysurfing and mosh pits, this is it. Whether you choose to participate or not, you’re still likely to walk away from the stage feeling whole, revitalized and ready to tackle the final hours of the festival weekend.
The period of time between 6:15 PM and 10 PM on Sunday might just be the sexiest block of any single music festival ever. The trail is laced with R&B artists that both sing about and epitomize sex appeal. Things kick off with Jeremih, whose third full length Late Nights: The Album is a wide-eyed look into the things people do between dusk and dawn. Hint: It’s not sleeping. At one point for example, Jeremih casually mentions that he’s at an orgy, then wonders why he’s still wearing clothes when everyone around him is naked. The situation itself isn’t subtle, but the way it’s delivered somehow is. One of the big things that sets Jeremih apart from many of his contemporary peers is that ability to have patience and allow things to unfold naturally and at their own pace – from melodies to the stories and declarations in his songs. That’s not to say it’s a slow record or a boring one, simply more well-rounded and deliberate than the quick, loud and dirty approach that dominates R&B today. How well will all of this play out on a Pitchfork stage with the sun still high in the air? Probably not nearly as well as it would in the dark, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to scheduling.
Thundercat and Kamasi Washington are good friends and labelmates thanks to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint. While Washington’s specialty is the saxophone and the jazz qualities that come with it, Thundercat, aka Stephen Bruner, makes the bass guitar his weapon of choice. There aren’t a lot of truly inspired bass-focused musicians making music today, which is why Thundercat stands out among his peers. In between his own experimental releases, he’s helped artists like Kendrick Lamar and Erykah Badu find their footing for landmark records. Last summer’s The Beyond / Where Giants Roam EP functioned as one fully realized, 16-minute vision that placed the spotlight on the tragic deaths of several of his friends. But it’s not all somber. In fact, Thundercat’s 2013 album Apocalypse featured mostly boisterous and upbeat tracks despite the world-ending title. His eccentric approach has served him well thus far, using a baseline of jazz to also explore the worlds of R&B, funk, soul and even a bit of synth-pop. It’s a testament to his immense talent that just about everything he tries turns to gold. Expect Thundercat to deliver an offbeat yet very focused performance at the fest, largely skipping the prog elements of traditional jazz in favor of concise, straightforward songs paired with his simple vocals.
In the massive world that is R&B, Miguel stands out. Beyond being a singer with an impressive vocal range, he also plays electric guitar on a fair number of songs. He also attempts to effortlessly blend other elements from a wide variety of genres into his sound, which means he sometimes sounds like a pop or rock crossover act, though it’s a little surprising he hasn’t gained much attention for the latter. From a lyrical perspective, he breaks from convention by singing about sex in a positive and mutually beneficial way instead of being a one-sided pleasure delivery system, which seems to be the focus of his peers. As a result, Miguel’s two records Kaleidoscope Dream and Wildheart have more in common with Prince and James Brown than they do The Weeknd and R. Kelly. Critically acclaimed and with an absolutely dynamite live show, there’s going to be plenty to love in one of the can’t-miss sets of the weekend.
LUH. stands for Lost Under Heaven. It’s the new project from former WU LYF frontman Ellery Roberts, in collaboration with visual artist Ebony Hoorn. The British duo’s debut album Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing is a noisy and epic battle against the oppressors of the world. When you’re fighting such massive concepts like capitalism and genocide, it’s an all-in dramatic proposition that requires defiant vocals shouted into the void and arrangements with build-ups and crescendos to strike back at these sometimes abstract concepts. Synths surge, guitars grind, strings swell and percussion propels it all forward with all the force of a ten ton hammer. There is no subtlety to it, which is both a benefit and a handicap. After awhile the record starts to sound too single-minded. The good news is that LUH. only have 45 minutes to channel their rag, so they’ll wrap up before things start to wear thin. Pitchfork marks one of their first U.S. dates ever as part of a very short tour. It might be worth checking them out, because they could easily turn the Blue stage into a rocket ship of revolutionary noise.
8:45 Oneohtrix Point Never
8:30 FKA twigs**
It’s challenging to determine where Oneohtrix Point Never (Daniel Lopatin) stands in the world of electronic music. That’s largely because his work as OPN has varied so much and gone through so many evolutions in the last decade or so that you’re never quite sure what to expect from him with each release. There’s a certain freedom in that, which Lopatin embraces to a degree while still maintaining a few distinct core elements that help you recognize his fingerprints on the sounds you’re hearing. His latest effort Garden of Delete borrows structures like build ups and drops from the world of EDM, but deploys them in such unexpected fashion that you’re always kept just a little off balance. The record also tells a story, which can be deciphered through the lyrics (which are often distorted but can be read online or with physical copies of the album) along with an interactive experience featuring elements like blogs, websites and Twitter accounts to further dive into this world. None of that will really matter on stage at Pitchfork, but it speaks to finding additional meaning behind the art. Lopatin’s ability to effortlessly blend elements of metal, R&B, trance, pop and funk into music you can (mostly) dance to is an accomplishment in an of itself. There won’t be much to look at during his set since he’ll be twisting knobs and pushing buttons most of the time, but if you’re looking to zone out and get down to celebrate the end of a successful weekend this might be the set to see.
Thus far we’ve gotten three EPs and one full-length album from FKA twigs, and all of it falls neatly into the category of experimental R&B. A majority of her songs fail to fall into traditional R&B structures, which has made it somewhat difficult for her to achieve mainstream success via radio and commercial airplay, but her approach and presentation make it abundantly clear that this is a truly unique artist with a clear idea of who she is and how she’d like to be perceived. Her lyrics often revolve around sex and relationships, but for all the talk of dominance and submission there’s never a point where she’s not in control on a personal, professional or creative level. Everything has purpose and intent, including her live shows, which are visually stunning and make the absolute most of lighting and other effects. There’s little doubt in my mind that twigs is on a similar plane with names like Janet Jackson, Madonna, Missy Elliott and Bjork as an artist whose vision will change the way we hear and perceive pop music. Simply put, she’s the feminist pop star that 2016 needs right now.