The Reader's Guide to the 2009 Pitchfork Music Festival: Saturday 

Fucked Up

Fucked Up

David Waldman

Intro | Friday | Sunday

saturday18

1 PM Disappears Initially a recording project for Brian Case (formerly of the 90 Day Men and currently with the on-hiatus Ponys) and Graeme Gibson (formerly of Boas and currently with the Fruit Bats), now a tightly wound live quartet, Disappears are one of the Chicago scene's most promising new groups in quite a while. Their debut album, Live Over the Rainbo (downloadable free from disappearsdisappears.blogspot.com), is a sprawling, shadowy blend of Krautrock drone and garagey melodic hooks. a Balance Stage —MR

click to enlarge Cymbals Eat Guitars
  • Cymbals Eat Guitars

1 PM Cymbals Eat Guitars This New York quartet's self-released debut, Why There Are Mountains, has been justly praised for its rich and rewarding song structures and satisfying, slightly Pavement-like peaks and valleys. What I really like about the music is its similarity to a landscape—sounds with recognizably human origins, like voices, tend to read as merely incidental intrusions among the instruments, as though the chords and riffs were ageless natural forces. That's why there are mountains: to outlive us. Cymbals Eat Guitars also headline the Bottom Lounge tonight. a Aluminum Stage —MK

1:45 PM The Dutchess & the Duke Last year's She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke (Hardly Art) has become pretty much required listening for garage rockers on their "feelings of emotion" days, and with good reason. Over a sparse, folky backdrop—acoustic guitar, touches of percussion, occasional twangy, Brian Jones-y electric leads—Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison sing memorable melodies in sweet, sad harmony, frequently sounding like a poppier, less antagonistic Dylan. What they lack in originality they more than make up for in durability—you can listen to these songs again and again without wearing them out, and Lortz's lyrics are a major factor in that. His nihilistic fantasies, full of pistol-packing Cubans and hard-living women, are salted with abstract poetic imagery, but his touch is so expert that they still feel like verite sketches. The Dutchess & the Duke also headline the Hideout tonight; they're bringing a full backing band, and for their festival set they'll even have a string section. a Balance Stage —MR

1:45 PM Plants and Animals Ever since I got hooked on the painfully infectious whistled melody that opens "Feedback in the Field," Plants and Animals' standout 2008 album, Parc Avenue (Secret City), has been a regular part of my rotation. The Montreal trio's winding epics combine progressive psych rock, elements of acoustic roots music, and soulful vocals touched with Freddie Mercury-style melodrama, but everything hangs together thanks to the band's sharp pop sensibility. When I saw them at Schubas in March, they seemed surprised they'd sold the place out, but I'm sure it won't be the last time—in fact I expect they'll sell out the show they're headlining at Schubas tonight. a Connector Stage —KW

click to enlarge YEASAYER
  • Yeasayer

2:30 PM Fucked Up After the recent glut of waifish art-core bands, it's really nice to see some big dudes in the front ranks of the scene—Fucked Up has the kind of sound that's a little more threatening coming from huge guys. They began as a singles band in Toronto and are now every aging punk's dream: last year's The Chemistry of Common Life, their first album for Matador, is full of epic, tuneful posthardcore for people who gave up on HxC when Ray Cappo went Krishna. Elements of mid-90s indie rock (think Superchunk, not Pavement), angular prog, classic SoCal skate punk, and mean midwestern hardcore come and go in every pummelling song. Easily the best live band at the festival this year, Fucked Up mean business—they are here to blister your ass, not "entertain," and they make Grizzly Bear sound like the teacher from Peanuts. They're also headlining Subterranean on Friday, July 17. a Aluminum Stage —JH

2:40 PM Antlers For the first half of Hospice (originally self-released but recently reissued on Frenchkiss) the Antlers seem concerned solely with piling interestingly weird noises—droning fuzz, chattering digital cicada calls—on top of one another. But then they apparently get a hankering for melody, and for a while they sound like an average indie-rock band. Luckily the detour isn't a long one. The Antlers also play at the Debonair Social Club tonight. a Balance Stage —MR

3:20 PM The Pains of Being Pure at Heart A singer with a fake English accent, a guitar sound that goes from sugar glaze to ice cream headache at the tap of a pedal, swooning boy-girl harmonies, indelible melodies, lyrics that crystallize late-teen psychosexual angst—Brooklyn's the Pains of Being Pure at Heart sound like they're angling for a spot on the NME's C86 cassette compilation, even though the band's oldest members were just starting grade school when it came out. a Connector Stage —BM

3:35 PM Bowerbirds With the release of their new sophomore album, Upper Air (Dead Oceans), Bowerbirds are attracting predictable comparisons to indie-folk big shots like Bon Iver and Iron & Wine, but Phil Moore and Beth Tacular (now joined by drummer Matt Damron and, for this tour at least, former member Mark Paulson and Megafaun bassist Brad Cook) are careful to stick to the genre's strengths: rather than piddle leisurely around in a folky trance, they wield acoustic guitar, piano, and accordion with beautifully operatic precision, their arrangements rising and falling along with each airy vocal melody. a Balance Stage —KW

4:15 PM Final Fantasy Electrified and processed fiddle has always had its champions in the world of experimental music (Tony Conrad, Kaffe Matthews, et cetera), but you've got to look harder to find them in indie rock. Few in that arena have employed the violin as consistently or as gracefully as Owen Pallett, the out-and-proud 29-year-old behind the Toronto-based project Final Fantasy (yes, named after the video game). He's classically trained, but he doesn't stop there: he runs the instrument through pedals and effects and loops it so that he can play along with himself, creating an eerie rush of avant-pop beauty that sometimes sounds like the soundtrack to a film that doesn't exist. His most recent releases are two limited-edition EPs, Plays to Please and Spectrum, 14th Century, but he's also on plenty of other folks' records: he's done string arrangements for the likes of the Arcade Fire, Great Lake Swimmers, and Holy Fuck, and he's currently working with the Pet Shop Boys. a Aluminum Stage —MK

4:30 PM Ponytail This playful Baltimore four-piece makes noisy, high-energy art-rock that heaps jagged, swirling guitars, erratic drumming, and sporadic yelps, yips, and shrieks into a colorful and volatile mixture. Ponytail's youthful enthusiasm is like a sugar high with no crash—listening to this stuff reminds me of the days when I could ravage an entire bag of Skittles and a king-size Snickers in one sitting without thinking twice. You keep expecting to get a headache, but you're enjoying yourself too much to care. a Balance Stage —KW

5:15 PM Yeasayer The haunting, somewhat otherworldly art-pop on this Brooklyn band's 2007 debut, All Hour Cymbals (We Are Free), has aged a lot better than some of the other music Pitchfork has thrown its weight behind—remember Clap Your Hands Say Yeah? What keeps me interested is the delicate dance between the mildly strident lead vocals and the prettier, more melodic group harmonies—that and the way the best songs can surprise you by introducing new flavors with each discrete section. The Mediterranean-sounding chorus to "Wait for Summer" gets a sorrowful buoyancy from its lovely matrix of vocal lines, and the gently churning funk of "2080" supports group voices that go from almost angelic in the chorus to rabid on the bridge. Yeasayer is at work on a follow-up, so I imagine they'll be testing out some new material here. a Connector Stage —PM

5:30 PM Wavves Nathan Williams earned himself a ton of goodwill with his catchy blend of lo-fi pop and surfy punk—best captured on the recent Wavvves (Fat Possum)—and then promptly squandered it with a series of unfocused live performances, topped off by an onstage meltdown at Primavera Sound in Spain. One thing he's got going for him now, though, is that it's still so early in his career that he'll have plenty of chances to prove himself again. a Balance Stage —MR

6:15 PM Doom One of only two hip-hop artists at Pitchfork this year, veteran rapper Doom (formerly MF Doom) is an underground titan, and on his first album in four years, Born Like This (Lex), he's still delivering the kind of dark, elliptical rhymes that earned him his reputation—no lightweight party jams here. His gruff delivery and busy, consonant-crammed flow, loaded with internal rhyming, pair perfectly with the brooding, banging tracks, most of which he produced himself (though Jake One and the late J Dilla also contribute), and midway through the album he yields the stage to an unexpected guest—a recording of Charles Bukowski reading bits of his poem "Dinosauria, We." With any luck we'll get the real Doom behind the trademark metal mask—he's rumored to have dispatched lip-synching proxies to past gigs. a Aluminum Stage —PM

6:30 PM Lindstrom If you still relish your memories of the Summerdances of yore, Oslo's Hans-Peter Lindstrom is here for you. His dulcet-toned, ethereal dance music is very Euro, but in the frosty-and-dignified way, not the steamrolling-and-dumb way—his set may not turn Union Park into a dusk rave (it'll be too light out for glow sticks anyhow), but after 13 bands, seven beers, and a Jamaican wrap, it's gonna be a lifesaving palate cleanser. aBalance Stage —JH

7:25 PM Beirut Zach Condon, the brains behind the chameleonic Beirut, writes pretty, elegant pop songs whose swooping melodies remind me more than a little of Andrew Bird, but his youthful dilettantishness still seems to be getting in his way. He's let fleeting fascinations determine the color of Beirut's arrangements, so that it changes from one album to the next—propulsive Romany dance music, French chanson, sorrowful Oaxacan brass. The group's latest is a double EP called March of the Zapotec/Holland (Pompeii/Ba Da Bing!), and on the first disc he's enlisted Band Jimenez to flesh out his quivering ballads; on the second, credited to his old alias Realpeople, he opts for stripped-down, synth-dominated settings that suggest early Magnetic Fields, and the results are less interesting. Still, none of his excursions has been an outright failure, in large part because he keeps writing Zach Condon songs, no matter what their trappings—and since he's only 23 and has already covered so much stylistic ground, I expect he'll soon learn to focus his talents more effectively. a Connector Stage —PM

7:30 PM Matt & Kim The Brooklyn-based duo of Matt Johnson and Kim Schifino is perhaps the smilingest band in the world, and though that might seem like a small thing, the joy they derive from playing music is the defining element of their aesthetic—which might best be described as "What if there were an alternate universe where punk rock had been invented by a bunch of hyperactive five-year-old cartoon addicts?" In a typical song Schifino bashes away at her drum kit while Johnson bashes out an equally manic three-chord progression on his keyboard and yelps through a fist-pumping chorus that's just begging for a group shout-along. It's simple, direct, and almost as fun for the audience as it is for the band. a Balance Stage —MR

8:30 PM Black Lips Psychotically sullen, swampy-sounding garage punk had a boom in the 90s—back when it was pretty meaningless if not actually impossible for a band to have "blog buzz"—and that's when I got into it. I'm glad the stuff won't go away, even if I am a little surprised that cool kids seem to like it now. The Black Lips didn't get started till 2000, but if they'd been around early enough to have a fair fight with the Humpers, I'm sure they would've done fine. a Balance Stage —AS

8:40 PM The National Formed in Brooklyn by a bunch of friends from Ohio, this five-piece band plays urbane, melodramatic indie rock that nonetheless has a dusky, jangly, back-porch feel, and though it takes a little patience, once you fall under its spell you'll start to notice that the lyrics are really cool and poetic. If the Pitchfork crowd is as large and as drunk as it was last year, I doubt it will have such patience—but I guess the people who already know the words won't need it. Good luck, the National. a Aluminum Stage —AS

Intro | Friday | Sunday

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