5 Artists to See at Pitchfork Music Festival
Pitchfork Fest is almost here. You only have just over a week to wait until you get to stand in the heat, under-hydrated, with strangers invading your personal space, some of those strangers evidently not too keen on showering, some of them too drunk to realize they’re testing your olfactory system. Maybe this all sounds wonderful to you. Maybe you’re a masochist. Or maybe you’ve got good taste in music. Because oh golly is Pitchfork’s lineup great. Here’s a by-no-means-exhaustive list of artists you should see next weekend:
1. Car Seat Headrest
Friday–3:30, Red Stage
Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial, clocking in at seventy minutes, is all hits and no misses–one of the best indie rock albums of 2016. Scheduling Car Seat Headrest’s set to be the first of the weekend is a curious decision, what with Teens of Denial’s themes of depression (“You have no right to be depressed / You haven’t tried hard enough to like it”) and self-doubt (“I find it harder to speak / when someone else is listening”) not exactly fulfilling the promise of escape that is partly what draws people to festivals. But the catchy refrain in “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)” will be a lot of fun to sing along to, and 23-year-old, prolific frontman Will Toledo is clever enough, his banter’s probably gonna be pretty good. And moreover, like “Drugs with Friends” suggests, escaping is overrated.
2. Broken Social Scene
Friday–7:20, Red Stage
The Toronto collective has included Feist; Emily Haines and James Shaw of Metric; Torquil Campbell, Evan Cranley, Amy Millan, and Chris Seligman of Stars; and up to like a bajillion other people (eleven, to be precise). Co-founded by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, Broken Social Scene’s got so many connected projects, and altogether those projects have so many influences, it’s no wonder the band’s discography is eclectic. Their ambient debut album, Feel Good Lost would work as background music for a yoga class–it deserves more than that, of course, but it would work–whereas their self-titled’s lengthy closer “It’s All Gonna Break,” which by the way features some bitching horns, is way too chaotic for shavasana. There’s these two aptly titled songs: “Blues for Uncle Gibb” and “Late Nineties Bedroom Rock for the Missionaries.” There’s also fan-favorite “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl,” which is orchestral folk. It’s hard to tell what the overall vibe of their set will be, or how many vibes there will be, and we don’t know how many members will show up, nor if whoever shows up has new stuff to play. (It’s not like they have to have new stuff to play stuff you haven’t heard, though; You Forgot It in People’s recording sessions were largely improvised, and they’ve improvised live before.) But this is not a case where you should be concerned about the unknown, no siree. Broken Social Scene’s released four excellent records. Whatever their set consists of, it won’t be disappointing.
Saturday–4:15, Green Stage
If you’re into post-punk, make it a point to catch Savages’ set. Just keep your phone stowed away. In 2013, on tour supporting their debut album Silence Yourself, the band posted a sign that asked concert-goers not to mess with their phones during the show. The sign read: “We believe that the use of phones to film and take pictures during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves.” The band’s pro-immersion (check out “I Am Here,” one of the standout tracks on Silence Yourself). Frontwoman Jehnny Beth spoke to Pitchfork editor Jenn Pelly for Pitchfork’s podcast. She said the band wanted their second album to represent them–a “this is us,” is how Beth put it. If we’re to take Adore Life as a representation of the London-based quartet, then Savages are badass and sincere. Rather than singing clichés ironically, Beth embraces the Truth in them. They’re a band who can put on a show far more compelling than any picture of them your iPhone can take.
4. Sufjan Stevens
Saturday–8:30, Green Stage
At 7:25 on Saturday night, Brian Wilson will perform 1966’s Pet Sounds, a classic album. Then at 8:30, Sufjan Stevens will play songs from heart-on-sleeve Carrie & Lowell, which, given its beauty and its ruminations on mortality, is a timeless album, one that, fifty years from now, may also be considered a classic. Bonus: you get to see Stevens play the jubilant “Chicago” at a festival–say what you will of festivals’ lack of intimacy, but festivals have more jubilation than the drunk people attending them can shake a stick at–in Chicago.
It should be noted that Sufjan Stevens has, on his Tumblr, expressed his ambivalence about a typographical choice Savages made: “The awkward blatancy of an ALL CAPS manifesto (with line breaks) on [Silence Yourself’s] cover is, on one hand, a bold move (typographically), and, on the other hand, an indication of restraint and self-possession…The inherent democracy of ONE CASE (every letter equally measured) forgoes the political hierarchy of upper/lower class. Am I reading too much into this?” He goes on to describe Savages’ sound as: “Restrained Aggression. Agressive Restraint. Clean lines, crisp utility, minimalism, functionality. These are also the qualities of a good font, Helvetica being the supreme deity, and Futura Medium a minor prophet.”
5. Kamasi Washington
Sunday–3:20, Red Stage
So uh, I’m not going to pretend I know much about jazz. Before listening to Kamasi Washington’s magnum opus The Epic, my experience with the genre was limited to hearing it while eating at Yats or watching Louie. What I will say is that the first time I listened to The Epic, I kept thinking, Holy shit. Washington plays sax on, and conducted the strings for, To Pimp a Butterfly, and jazz-influenced Annie Clark thinks highly of him, albeit not quite as highly as Sufjan Stevens thinks of Helvetica. The guy’s a big deal in the jazz sphere. If you’re a noob like me, let Washington make you agree, as I now do, with Kurt Vonnegut’s definition of jazz: “safe sex, of the highest order.”