Who to See at Pitchfork Music Festival 2013

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

Contributor
on 07.15.13 in Collections

From the fiery blast of White Lung to the superb showmanship of R. Kelly to the rowdy, jagged guitars of Parquet Courts, we’ve got you covered when it comes to who you should be seeing at Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park this weekend.

Want eMusic’s take on this year’s festivities? Be sure to follow our Twitter account and visit 17 Dots throughout the weekend for our editors’ complete coverage.

Bjork

Biophilia

Bjork

Twenty-seven years into her career, Bjork is running the risk of becoming a pop music Alexander the Great, weeping for there are no more worlds to conquer. She has reconfigured her sound in nearly every conceivable way, moving from adventurous electro on the still-classic Post through skewed orch-pop (Vespertine), voice-only compositions (Medulla) and globe-gobbling world music (Volta). She is one of a very few musicians — there are maybe three of them worldwide — whose rare failures are even interesting, because they at least display evidence of ambition and novel ideas. That ambition extends to her staging. A run of shows at the Hall of Science in Queens, New York featured specially-constructed instruments and a loose theme (including voiceover narration) about the destructive power of nature. How much of that she'll carry into her festival performances remains to be seen, but if history is any indication, an equal won’t be found all weekend. — J. Edward Keyes

R. Kelly

Write Me Back (Deluxe Version)

R. Kelly

When R. Kelly toured in 2007, he first appeared in silhouette, wearing a top hat, standing at the top of a giant staircase, underneath a neon sign that read "Mr. Showbiz." When he toured in 2010, his first appearance was in a five-minute black-and-white, note-perfect Casablanca-style short film. When he toured in 2012, he had two lackeys bring out an oversized white throne halfway through the show just so he could sit relax for a number. Simply put: R. Kelly is a showman, and the live setting is where he gets to indulge the frustrated musical theatre director within. Songs become set pieces (In '07, he performed "Feelin' On Yo Booty" as an aria, tongue firmly in cheek), the banter is tautly-scripted and generally hilarious, and Kells visibly relishes every indulgent flourish. To say nothing of the fact that he remains one of our greatest living male vocalists, that he sings live every time, and that even 30 seconds of hearing him reinforces the notion that he is the heir to greats like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye — even if those two never used an extended jungle metaphor to sing about doin' it. — JEK

Solange

True

Solange

Solange Knowles released her first album in 2011, but it was last year that she truly broke out as more than just Bey's little sister. Her EP True is all dancefloor hits, from the funky, giggly start of "Losing You," to the nostalgic heartbreaker "Some Things Never Seem to Fucking Work," to the Daydream-era-Mariah Carey-channeling "Don't Let Me Down." — Laura Leebove

M.I.A.

MAYA

M.I.A.

M.I.A. took no small amount of critical heat for 2010's ///Y/, an album that took its musical cues from Skinny Puppy and Nitzer Ebb and opened with the "paranoid" notion that the U.S. government was monitoring its citizens Google searches. Flash forward three years later, in the wake of both the NSA wiretapping scandal and Kanye West's similarly industrial-influenced Yeezus, and you could argue that the only real problem with ///Y/ is that it was too far ahead of the curve. Say what you will about M.I.A., she remains an artist stubbornly guided by her own muse, even what that muse causes her to fall afoul of even her most ardent one-time supporters. The live shows supporting ///Y/ featured backup musicians in burkas "playing" power drills, Einsturzende Neubauten style. Whateve she pulls at Pitchfork this year, don't be too surprised if you catch another artist nicking it four years from now. – JEK

Phosophorescent

Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck is a country-rock troubadour with a broken voice, a Willie Nelson tremble overcome with unpredictable hiccups, that some people find irritating and many find devastating. He uses it to sing to us from a series of characters who probably find a lot in common with crushed birds.

His 2013 record Muchacho is an ethereal meditation on fate and the limits of free will delivered by a sadly broken soul. It is a record full of beautiful, inscrutably poetic language — koans, charms, blades, invocations. And all those horn charts and pedal steel guitars are still here, but they’ve been put to a larger task than ever before: Houck is contemplating his place in the universe, and ours. Live, he abandons the pretense of fragility, and rips through his music with road-warrior, alpha intensity. — Jayson Greene

White Lung

White Lung vocalist Mish Way is a human tornado, a blinding corkscrew of motion and sound ripping up the center of her songs like the Tasmanian Devil turned loose in the middle of a Safeway. It's the musical equivalent of being grabbed by the shoulders and throttled repeatedly. Which is a great thing. White Lung's second full-length Sorry inflicts more damage than a runaway rotary blade, and their live show is just as devastating. It's a blast of fire and fury, an endless barrage of megaton cannonballs aimed directly at your throat. — JEK

The Breeders

Last Splash

The Breeders

Arguably the least-likely '90s crossover success, the Breeders used tart candy pop single "Cannonball" to lure an army of unsuspecting Alternative Nationalists into one of the most delightfully bewildering rock records of the last 30 years. Last Splash defies one convention after another — drums drop out and re-enter, guitar lines are curl and collapse like Shrinky Dinks and Kim Deal's voice is one part fairy godmother, one part bad witch. Twenty years on, they sound better than ever, playing the songs from Splash better than they ever did, recreating all of its oddball glory for a new generation of acolytes. — JEK

Killer Mike

R.A.P. Music

Killer Mike

Killer Mike hasn't made a career habit of taking prisoners: Whether you're a Forbes list millionaire ("a whore's list," as far as he's concerned), a rapper like himself who is an "advertisement for agony and pain," or, god help you, Ronald Reagan ("I'll leave you with four words: I'm glad Reagan dead"), Mike has choice words for you. And the emphasis is on "choice": his bellowing, burly voice and big gut might give the impression of someone heavy-footed and lumbering, but Mike can rap as nimbly as he does forcefully. Live, he will leave you feeling like the slab of meat in Rocky's freezer: tenderized, worked over. But in a good way. Also, if the gods are kind, his new confidante and best friend El-P will show up. — JG

El-P

Over his nearly 15-year career, whether as part of Company Flow or on his own Def Jux label, El-P has filled your ear with the kind of verses you can pull back on eight times in a row and still feel like you're scrambling to catch up. His mind races, his heart hammers and his production, frenetic and detailed, dramatizes every neuron firing. He has nursed occasionally a reclusive misanthropic streak, only emerging every few years with one of his enveloping, internal full-length solo records, but he stepped back out into the spotlight, big time, in 2012, alongside the Atlanta underground king Killer Mike. The two have collaborated on three projects now; El-P produced Killer Mike's career-high R.A.P. Music; Mike guested on El's Cancer4Cure and the two traded verses on the free collaborative mixtape Run The Jewels. They are ideal partners, sharing the same coruscating, passionate anger that builds things instead of razing, the kind of purifying gale that loving something moves you to. — JG

Waxahatchee

Cerulean Salt

Waxahatchee

Waxahatchee is singer/songwriter Katie Crutchfield, whose home-recorded debut LP American Weekend is spare, raw and intimate; mostly fuzzy acoustic guitar with hollow vocals, about the emotional turmoil of a failing relationship and succumbing to vices in hopes of happiness. Her follow-up, this year's Cerulean Salt, is more polished, recorded with electric guitars and a band, but Crutchfield is no less wrenching in her lyrics. — LL

Swans

The Seer

Swans

"They're just so loud." That's the reverent description that follows nearly every live performance by Michael Gira's recently-resuscitated, more-vital-than-ever body-throttlers Swans. Any attempt to describe them fails outright. Are they metal? Yeah, kind of. Post-punk? Kind of that, too. Drone? Yup. They also take the practiced monotony of krautrock and bulk it up and blast it out so that the repetition is both hypnotizing and purposely maddening — Chinese Water Torture, except the water is 20-ton bowling balls. Swans remain one of rock 'n' roll's most punishing live acts, holding audiences spellbound with just the sheer force of their fury. — JEK

Low

2013 marks Low's 20th year as a band, as well as the release of their 10th album, the Jeff Tweedy-produced The Invisible Way. That much history means their performance at Pitchfork could be all over the map, pulling songs from their lo-fi, slow-burning early recordings, the life-affirming electric bombast of 2005's The Great Destroyer, the moodier, tightly-wound and politically-fueled Drums & Guns, and their more polished and melodic newer releases. But then again there's always some chance they'll do something along the lines of their recent gig in Minneapolis, where they played a 27-minute version of their song "Do You Know How to Waltz?" — LL

Wire

When post-punk legends Wire first reunited 13 years ago, it was in support of the astonishing Read & Burn EPs, a trilogy that found them trading the jagged angles of their influential late '70s work for brute, clobbering force. They spurned all of their classics in concert in favor of the new material, but nobody cared: All that mattered was the intensity. Their last two records have been more mannered and more sedate and the setlists a little kinder to their vast back catalog, but if they play with even half the force they had at the beginning of this century, the results will be astonishing. — JEK

Frankie Rose

Frankie Rose used to be a Dum Dum; she used to be a Vivian. Now she's just Frankie, and her 2012 breakout effort Interstellar shot her modest indie-pop into, well, the stars, trailed by violet comet-trail synths and misted vocals. Few albums have sounded quiet so delightfully artificial; it's like listening to the fondant of a wedding cake. Live, she scrapes all this patina away and rocks, loudly and startlingly. — JG

Mac DeMarco

Mac DeMarco's grubby, Pigpen-Eagles version of yacht-pop might not prepare you for the full-blown, indie-rock-Andy-Kaufman hilarity of his live set; Mac is one of few humans on this planet who can make smirking assholery seem downright endearing and infectious. It helps that his bandmates are in on the fun, that they crack each other up, and that they play their often-shoddy instruments like gangbusters: in previous sets, I've seen them cover both Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" and a Rammstein/Rob Zombie mash-up of "Du Hast Mich" and "Dragula." — JG

Blood Orange

Twenty-seven-year-old Dev Hynes, aka Blood Orange, has an impressive CV, having written and produced for the likes of Florence & the Machine, Solange, Kylie Minogue and Sky Ferreira. The songs on his 2011 Domino release Coastal Grooves are perfect summery pop pick-me-ups, made with shiny guitars, quirky percussion and, not surprisingly considering his clientele, some serious hooks. — LL

METZ

The Canadian trio METZ devote themselves to a dank, fertile corner of underground rock: the baleful, misanthropic, sonically hateful squeal-rock of Jesus Lizard. Like that band, METZ doesn't write songs so much as hock them, through clogged sinuses, into your field of vision: The screaming guitars hurt your nerve endings, the drumming kicks over alley garbage cans. But their racket is militantly organized, and martially brutal, and to see them live is a thing of cleansing beauty. — JG

Andy Stott

Andy Stott's recent albums — specifically, Luxury Problems and Passed Me By, are marvels of mood and tone. They drift from dreamy ambience to crushing drone and back again, delirious and feverish, electronics clanging and whooshing like wind rushing through empty metal hallways. His DJ set at South by Southwest, though, mostly abandoned these doomy atmospherics in favor of slightly more crowd-pleasing techno. It's hard to say how things will skew in Chicago, thought given Pitchfork Fest's audience tends toward the adventurous, it's likely Stott will veer toward the doomy, Lynchian delirium of his records. — JEK

Parquet Courts

Now several months on from the release of their perfect debut Light Up Gold, it's clear that Parquet Courts may, in fact, be trying to imagine a less-dysfunctional version of The Fall. They've got the deadpan, cleverly-constructed, surrealist-narrative, written-to-be-quoted lyrics ("As for Texas? Donuts only. You will not find bagels here."), the jagged guitars and, above all, the jaw-dropping, airtight live show, where they careen breathlessly from one song to the next before collapsing straight into a 10-minute, drawn-out drone composition with which they've been ending recent shows. After a triumphant near-year since the release of their debut, their Pitchfork performance could well serve as their coronation. — JEK

Angel Olsen

Chicago-based singer/songwriter Angel Olsen's Half Way Home was one of 2012's most beautiful — and at times devastating — releases. Her delicate songs are about the journey from lost to found, told through finger-picked guitar and a soulful, wavering voice that often cracks as it slips into her higher register. In a festival setting, though, it's likely she'll focus on the more (relatively) upbeat numbers, like the jangly, '60s girl-group-channeling "The Waiting" and "Free." — LL