Each summer in Chicago’s Union Park, three days are dedicated to highlighting the best in new and emerging artists. This special festival is hosted by online independent music hub Pitchfork, and attracts over 50,000 attendees each year. The Pitchfork Music Festival is this weekend (July 18th-20th), and I could not be more excited to make my first trip to this up-and-coming fest. This mini-mixtape features 8 stellar songs from 8 diverse acts on the lineup, so sit back and enjoy the tunes! Listen here to the full playlist.
1. “Ben’s My Friend” by Sun Kil Moon
In our culture, we commonly like to listen to songs with pretty lyrics, smile in pictures, and always say “I’m doing well,” even when we’re far from fine. Benji, Mark Kozelek’s sixth album under the moniker Sun Kil Moon, throws a wrench at the glass case of niceties that we carry around with us each day. Going without metaphor or sugar-coated embellishment of any kind, the 2014 release from the American folk rocker takes lyrical, down-tempo alternative music and turns it on its head. In Benji, Sun Kil Moon makes a brilliant, blunt, and sometimes unsettling artistic statement about death, friendship, and just being human. And he doesn’t hold back. Kozelek’s songwriting is designed to thrust you into snapshots of reality; all of them painfully raw and featuring people, victims of chance, doing the best they can in a screwed-up world. My pick for the playlist, “Ben’s My Friend,” is a memoiristic portrait that begins with Kozelek eating crab cakes with his girlfriend and leads to the telling of a stark, revealing tale about meeting his ‘friend,’ Ben Gibbard of band The Postal Service. Sun Kil Moon performs at 6:25 PM on Friday July 18th, the opening day of Pitchfork.
2. “Water Fountain” by Tune-Yards
Tune-Yards is one of the acts I am most psyched to see at Pitchfork Fest. Merril Garbus and Nate Brenner, the duo who brought Tune-Yards to its feet, have consistently been musicians that never bore the listener. Their records feature compellingly slapdash amalgams of folk, electronic, and indie pop, all of which boast smart melodies that pop like fireworks. Although widely known for their brand of hyper psychedelia, they take a subtle step back in their latest release, Nikki Nack, that they dropped this spring. Not to worry though, there are still songs that sound like they were cut in a jungle gym, and rhymes about modern dilemmas set to the music of a remixed ukulele. “Water Fountain,” is a hand-clapping, bongo-drum banging delight that epitomizes why I love Tune-Yards and their irresistibly fun nature. Tune-Yards performs at 5:15 PM on Saturday July 19th at Pitchfork.
3. “Morning” by Beck
Beck’s new release, Morning Phase, was one of the most talked-about albums of the last few months. The record is a fresh, watercolor-smeared collection of songs that make up a perfectly timed comeback for the 12-album musician. Ethereal to the point of zen, Morning Phase features Beck at his finest, while simultaneously structured around the idea of revival and growth. In my playlist selection, the gorgeous album opener "Morning," you can nearly see 6AM golden rays pouring through the blinds. The song, as well as the whole record, begs you to just breathe deeply and bask in the sun-weary soundscapes. Beck headlines Pitchfork on Friday July 18th at 8:30 PM.
4. “Wanderlust” by Wild Beasts
English experimental indie band Wild Beasts dropped their fourth record Present Tense in February of this year. Their first single off the album was this hypnotic, haunting track called “Wanderlust” that I couldn’t get out of my head. Slow burning synths and churning percussion combine into the perfect platform for lead singer Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto as he croons the biting line “Don't confuse me with someone who gives a f**k.” I. Needless to say, “Wanderlust” continues to be my favorite track off the album. Can’t wait to see Wild Beasts at Pitchfork at 2:30 PM on Saturday.
5. “Talking Backwards” by Real Estate
No one would deny that Real Estate is a band whose music thrives on dreamy, feel-good vibes that come through the speakers sounding effortless. “Talking Backwards,” a single off their March 2014 album Atlas, is a tune that steadily soars on the wings of chiming guitar strings, perfectly timed percussion, and the soft vocals of Alex Bleeker. The simplicity of this super-melodic song is what catches me the most off guard. With their new release, Real Estate shows off their ability to stand out as a guitar-centered dream-pop group and giving their music a glowing quality. Real Estate performs at Pitchfork at 5:15 PM on Sunday.
6. “I’m Not Part of Me” by Cloud Nothings
For being known as an “indie-grunge” band, Cloud Nothings offers up a surprisingly refined quality to their music. In fact, all of their songs possess the same kind of delightful contradiction: singsongy yet shouty, catchy yet chaotic. “I’m Not Part of Me,” one of Cloud Nothings’ most played songs, has this melodic chorus that is only made stronger by the band’s rudderless pandemonium. Catch them at Pitchfork, 3:20 PM on Saturday.
7. “Oblivion” by Grimes
Grimes, the seasoned femme fatale of the indie music scene, wowed me with the song “Oblivion.” This tune, the first cut from her latest album Visions, works its magic by making dark synths sound poppy and creepy at the same time. Grimes’ childlike voice is high and clear, giving the song an almost atmospheric vibe as burbling beats churn under her vocalizing. Grimes performs at Pitchfork at 7:25 PM on Sunday.
8. “Alison” by Slowdive
Slowdive is an English dream-pop band that formed in 1989. My favorite of their three albums is their sophomore release, Souvlaki. The 1993 record was co-produced by Brian Eno, and from this collaboration sprung a flawless collection of songs boasting rich and inviting ambient textures, soaring melodies, and strong songwriting sensibilities. “Alison” is my personal pick off of Souvlaki. Slowdive performs at Pitchfork at 6:15 PM on Sunday.