1:00 KEN Mode
In 2012 Winnipeg trio KEN Mode won the Juno Award for Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year for their fourth record, Venerable, which goes to show that the Junos have a much better handle on heavy music than the Grammys ever have or will (come to think of it, the Pitchfork festival hasn't done such a great job either). The band's follow-up, Entrench (Season of Mist), is even better—as my Reader colleague Kevin Warwick wrote in April, "For the first time, their noise-driven hardcore is almost wistful and melodic in spots." It's also tweaked by puckish humor, driven by utterly complete commitment, and informed by a real genius for upending math-rock cliches—the long, almost rambly "Romeo Must Never Know" springs a delightful booby trap at every turn. Also Fri 7/19 at Township, 21+, and tonight at Reggie's Rock Club, 17+. —Monica Kendrick Blue stage
KEN Mode is on the Saturday itinerary of Reader associate editor Kevin Warwick.
1:00 White Lung
Vancouver four-piece White Lung treats traditional hardcore punk like a rule of thumb. The songs on last year's short, bristling Sorry (Deranged) sometimes feel like attempts at pop-friendly black metal that use hardcore's pogoing rhythms rather than blurry blastbeats—opener "Take the Mirror" begins with a beefier version of the brittle, tremolo-picked guitar of classic misanthropic Norwegian black metal. Elsewhere White Lung's rhythm section gives songs such as "Bunny" and "Glue" an immediate accessibility with nimble hard-funk grooves. Front woman Mish Way has a powerful, assured howl—even her clean singing makes her sound like a voice student gone feral—and the iconoclastic band behind her plays with enough fury to win over skeptical punk purists. Also tonight at Bottom Lounge, 17+. —Leor Galil Green stage
White Lung is on the Saturday itinerary of Reader music listings coordinator Luca Cimarusti.
1:45 Pissed Jeans
Contempt not just for your pedestrian life but for everybody else's too—that's the territory of Pissed Jeans. On their latest album, Honeys (Sub Pop), they revisit the derisive brand of noisy 80s hardcore they've been honing since their 2005 debut, Shallow. Guitarist Bradley Fry improves with each album, his snarling Ginn-like riffs growing more fluid without losing a bit of their filth, and front man Matt Korvette sounds like a lunatic huddled in an alley screaming at the petty existences dressed up in business suits. As soon as I heard him kick off "Cafeteria Food" with the lines "Hey there, project manager, I saw you eating cafeteria food / So you want to call that a healthy choice / Well I'd argue that isn't true," I knew that he and the band were still flavoring their awesomely ugly punk with Harvey Pekar-style crankiness. Also tonight at Reggie's Rock Club, 17+. —Kevin Warwick Red stage
1:55 Julia Holter
On her third album, Loud City Song (Domino), Los Angeles art-pop songwriter Julia Holter balances her experimental instincts and her sophisticated melodic side, and the result is the best recording of her young career. In some ways, Holter seems like an old soul—her songs owe more to the Great American Songbook than to the Books, and she transforms the 1963 Barbara Lewis R&B hit "Hello Stranger" into an ethereal wash of Brill Building splendor. But with her exquisite arrangements, multipartite writing, and greatly expanded vocal range—from sotto voce intimacy to full-bore projection—she carves out a sound all her own. On previous records her accompaniment has been either electronic or somewhat rickety, but here she swaddles her singing (and the sweet harmonies of Ramona Gonzalez, aka Night Jewel) in rich backing tracks played by top-shelf musicians such as reedist Chris Speed and bassist Devin Hoff. She'll front a quintet for her Chicago performances. Also Friday 7/19 at Constellation, 21+. —Peter Margasak Blue stage
The backstory to the latest Phosphorescent album, Muchacho (Dead Oceans), borders on cliche: Front man and sole constant member Matthew Houck was suffering through a breakup in early 2012, and he turned to songwriting to soothe himself. In the midst of this turbulent time, he spontaneously bought a plane ticket to Mexico and spent a week in a coastal hut in Tulum finishing the new album's songs. Luckily, Houck's cracked southern drawl and the cosmic twang in his arrangements give his music a lyrical beauty and homegrown soul that prevent it from sounding melodramatic or self-pitying. The best songs are ambiguous: "A New Anhedonia," for instance, combines spiritual questing and slow, stately rhythms, and the disorienting power of lust spreads through the Neil Young-ish "The Quotidian Beasts." Always restless, Houck seems to reinvent himself between every album, but his heartbroken wail never changes. —Peter Margasak Green stage
Phosphorescent is on the Saturday itinerary of Reader associate editor Kevin Warwick.
2:50 Parquet Courts
On first listen, Parquet Courts' simple guitar melodies and borderline deadpan vocals might remind you of the early-aughts Brooklyn garage scene, but if you dig into their debut, Light Up Gold (Dull Tools), you'll unearth quirks that are more Sparks than Strokes. The postpunk of "Donuts Only" recalls vintage Mclusky, right down to the Falkous-like nasal yowl; "Master of Craft" and "Stoned and Starving" channel the chill strut of the Modern Lovers, complete with the vocal swagger of Jonathan Richman; and the whole album hops with a refreshing punk playfulness, a la the Dead Milkmen at their finest. The moral of the story: it's cool to sound like other bands, so long as when you add it all up you don't sound like other bands. Also Thu 7/18 at Lincoln Hall, 21+, and Sun 7/21 at Bottom Lounge, 17+. —Kevin Warwick Blue stage
3:20 . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Imagine my shock when I first listened to Trail of Dead's eighth full-length (eighth!), last year's Lost Songs (Richter Scale), and found myself digging it. I'd more or less left the Austin indie rockers to their own devices after their 2002 Interscope breakthrough, Source Tags & Codes, where they demonstrated just how far they could get by building formidable walls of washy, crystalline guitar and riding gigantor crash cymbals. Since that landmark, Trail of Dead have been shaking up their roster and plugging through albums, and aside from an occasional dud such as 2005's Worlds Apart, they've stuck by the omnipresent thrum of their drumming and the magnetism of eternally youthful front man Conrad Keely. Also Thu 7/18 at Double Door, 21+. —Kevin Warwick Red stage
Tampa act Merchandise, born from hardcore-punk bands such as Neon Blud and Cult Ritual, have till recently relied mostly on the support of unlicensed show spaces and their loyal patrons, but their sound marks them out as goths and Morrissey devotees at heart—and a very popular sound it is. The success of last year's Children of Desire and the recent Totale Nite (Nite-People) has made Merchandise a bit too big for their DIY britches. The albums' ebbing-and-flowing collections of dark, electro-tinged indie rock are held together by the sultry baritone of vocalist Carson Cox and steeped in a late-80s milieu of black eyeliner and dissonant, jangly guitar. Some songs get straight to the point, with hooks built from layered swaths of electronics, while others are introspective dirges that cast their spell for upwards of ten minutes. And they're all such danceable hype magnets that Merchandise was never going to stay tucked away in basements forever. Also Fri 7/19 at Bottom Lounge, 17+. —Kevin Warwick Blue stage
Merchandise is (sorta) on the Saturday itinerary of Reader associate editor Kevin Warwick.
British four-piece Savages borrow identifiable sounds from UK rock history on their stunning debut album, Silence Yourself (Matador)—the gothic caterwauling of Siouxsie Sioux, the lean agility of PJ Harvey, and scythelike guitar of PiL-era Keith Levene—but they put them together with impressive precision, power, and style. Singer Jehnny Beth turns her feminist outrage on beauty ideals and the unhealthy pressure to attain them, snarling, "I love the stretch marks on your thighs / I love the wrinkles around your eyes." The band matches the electric musicality behind its razor-sharp sound with an articulate purpose behind its anger, proving that rock music can still cut deep when the people making it treat it as more than just a way to fill time. This set is part of Savages' overdue first visit to Chicago. Also Thu 7/18 at Lincoln Hall, 21+, and Fri 7/19 at Lincoln Hall, 18+. —Peter Margasak Green stage
Savages are on the Saturday itinerary of Reader reader Derrick Alexander.
Given how much Metz glean from early-90s angst rock, Sub Pop was the perfect outlet for their self-titled debut, released in October 2012 (and easily one of the year's best). A raging modern-day tribute to the deafening dissonance of In Utero-era grunge—think the freak-outs in "Scentless Apprentice"—the album combines noise-rock feedback guitar with enormous drumming dead set on punching through even the sturdiest woofers. The Toronto trio dips into reverb-happy posthardcore too: on the unflinchingly heavy "Knife in the Water" and "Wasted," guitarist-vocalist Alex Edkins seems to drape his riffage behind the bludgeoning of bassist Chris Slorach and drummer Hayden Menzies. —Kevin Warwick Blue stage
I've really come to hate top tens, but if somebody put a gun to my head and demanded that I name the ten best American bands of my generation, I bet I could cough up a list—and Swans would be on it. Actually they would probably be on it a few times, since during their four decades they've adopted some radically different sounds. I loved their skull-crushing, soul-smearing 80s antimusic, when they were defiantly one-note and rode that note further than anyone else, whether there was a logical end to doing so or not; I loved their devastatingly beautiful early-90s gothic folk-rock, which kept the sternness of their unrelenting early work but not its violence; I loved their bizarre mid-90s fusion of electronica, industrial, postpunk, and metal, which didn't always sound like the Swans I knew but certainly didn't sound like anyone else either. But what's really sealed the deal for me have been the two albums they've made since their 2010 reunion, incorporating every phase that came before; by now captain Michael Gira has steered this vessel through so many seas that Swans are the ship, the sea, the sirens, and the storm all at once. Their live performance will drown you if you let it. —Monica Kendrick Red stage
5:45 Ryan Hemsworth
Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth makes mood music for hip-hop heads—though some of the tracks he's produced for rising rappers are proper bangers, his solo material consists largely of serene electronic instrumentals. On his recent self-released EP, the airy Still Awake, "Track 5 (Crashed)" sounds like it could evaporate at any moment. That's not to say the music is never lively: on "Perfectly" Hemsworth goes for a whimsical mix of syrupy vocals, xylophone flourishes, and snippets of parade-style dancehall drumming. Also tonight at Constellation, 21+. —Leor Galil Blue stage
Formed as a folk-rock duo in Dayton, Ohio, in the late 70s by future Pixies bassist Kim Deal and her twin sister, Kelley, the Breeders became the band we know and love in 1989, playing simple, weird pop songs fronted by a sweet, hazy voice that sounded like angel who lived on cigarettes and beer. Much like their peers in the Mice and Guided by Voices (with whom the Breeders eventually shared members), they became hugely important to one of Ohio's biggest exports in the late 80s and early 90s: perfectly crafted, slightly damaged indie rock. (In recent years the likes of Times New Viking, Obnox, and Connections have picked up the torch.) On the Breeders' sophomore album, Last Splash, they ditched the dry, muscular Albini production of their debut, Pod, and went for a more straightforward alt-rock sound, earning considerable mainstream success—which tattooed the opening bass line of "Cannonball" onto the brain of pretty much everyone who's ever turned on a radio. The Breeders have seen quite a few members come and go over the past couple decades, but for this performance they've reunited the Last Splash lineup—and they'll be playing the record front to back. —Luca Cimarusti Green stage
It's to Low's credit that it's anyone's guess what they'll do. With their sublime vocal harmonies and piano-heavy acoustic arrangements, the songs on their latest album, The Invisible Way (Sub Pop), could be performed in a living room with the power out. But last month at a festival gig in Minneapolis, they played just one song—a half-hour version of their already glacially paced "Do You Know How to Waltz?" that ballooned into a fog bank of distortion, then ended with guitarist Alan Sparhawk delivering a curt sign-off: "Drone, not drones." But whatever they do, you can count on Low to back it up with sublime musicality and a respectfully unapologetic moral stance. —Bill Meyer Blue stage
Solange Knowles has tried on a few different styles since touring with Destiny's Child as a teenager, and she rolled out the best last year on the low-key EP True (released by Terrible Records, co-owned by Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear). The music is small, almost radically so, breaking sharply with most current strains of R&B. Knowles keeps her powerhouse voice in check on often biting love songs that channel 80s electronic pop (Janet Jackson here, Madonna there), giving the catchy melodies the same modest scale as Dev Hynes's production. (He's also known as Blood Orange, and plays the festival tomorrow.) On "Bad Girls" she drops in some ornate Minnie Riperton-style curlicues, but this is one of the least flashy records from a major R&B singer I've heard in a decade. —Peter Margasak Red stage
7:45 Andy Stott
Over the past couple years, Manchester producer Andy Stott has edged away from dub- and techno-leaning clubs and started sneaking in through the back doors of dancing-optional indie venues partial to ambient drone and slowed-down experimental electro. And he's dialed in on this new turf, looping and texturing beats to create bare, organic cascades of sound that don't rely so much on the old thwump-thwump. For last year's Luxury Problems (Modern Love) , he enlisted the help of his former piano teacher, Alison Skidmore, and her hypnotic singing plays an integral part on the album from the get-go. The first track, "Numb," opens with her ghostly vocals gently accumulating in layers with each cycle of the underlying rhythm, while a light drone swells and then cuts out to make way for what sounds like a chunky, slo-mo helicopter rotor. If Stott is only on the lip of his rabbit hole now, he'd be well advised to jump in. —Kevin Warwick Blue stage
Andy Stott is on the Saturday itinerary of Reader associate editor Kevin Warwick.
8:30 Belle & Sebastian
If someone were to have told me 15 years ago that melancholy Scottish indie poppers Belle & Sebastian would be headlining a music festival the size of Pitchfork in 2013, I probably would've been only slightly less perplexed than I am today. That's not to say I don't still adore If You're Feeling Sinister as much as I did when it was released in 1996. (Unlike a lot of people—including one of Pitchfork's critics at the time—I even adored The Boy With the Arab Strap.) Then as now, I'm all for sparsely beautiful music juxtaposed against barbed, stinging lyrics. I'm all for refined yet edgy Scottish sensibilities. I'm even all for nostalgia. I just think that such qualities, in a festival setting, are better showcased before sundown. Also tonight at Debonair Social Club (DJ set), 21+. —Mara Shalhoup Green stage
This Scottish DJ and producer has been releasing 12-inches, EPs, and remixes since 2007, but he became a major force on the electronic-music scene with the arrival of his debut LP, Glass Swords, in late 2011. It's fitting that he's playing Pitchfork—not long after reviewing the album, the site published an essay by British writer Simon Reynolds about the influence Glass Swords had exerted on electronic music. People expecting Rustie's idiosyncratic fusion of dubstep, IDM, trap rap, R&B, and cartoony 80s pop will certainly get their fill tonight, but my guess is that his set will play out like his exquisite mix for the BBC's Essential Mix series: a fluid and galvanizing collage of his own material, grimy rap, electronic music, and contemporary R&B. —Tal Rosenberg Blue stage