With the fifth annual Pitchfork Music Festival less than a week away, we at Prefix are bringing a preview of smaller bands playing the three-day concert. Sure, we all know about the highly-anticipated headliners Pavement, Broken Social Scene and LCD Soundsystem, but what of the young bucks buzzing around the blogosphere? As part of that sphere, Prefix is duty bound to keep you in the loop whether or not you choose to journey to the capital of the Midwest and risk getting skin cancer due to the third degree burns you’ll (probably) receive from sitting outside in the sun all day.
Prefix will also be bringing you coverage of the festival as it happens July 16-18 from Chicago’s Union Park.
Band: Sonny & The Sunsets
Hometown: San Francisco
Sounds Like: The perfect summer soundtrack. Think of it as if chillwave substituted a mellow beachy-sounding guitar in for the electronic beats (lots of super echo-y vocals). You can’t really dance to it, but it’s great for swaying left to right with your head back and your eyes closed. It’s catchy as hell, and it even shows hints of Van Morrison influence in songs like “E.S.P.” Frontman Sonny Smith has a knack for evoking feelings of nostalgia instantly, and the band’s sound is so unagressive it’s hard not to like.
Recommended Listening: “Too Young to Burn” from their 2010 album Tomorrow Is Alright, out now on Soft Abuse.
Pitchfork Says: “So many bands put in a lot of work trying to make themselves sound older than their years; with their quiet confidence and no shortage of killer material, the Sunsets make it seem almost too easy.”
Watch Them: 1:55 Saturday on the Balance Stage. This is the only time the band has any tour dates scheduled outside of San Francisco for the rest of the year, so it might be smart to check them out here.
Sounds Like: The kind of stuff you’ll be caught yelling along to while getting kicked out of your local tavern. They’re one of those bands that dedicates themselves to making something pretty-sounding in the recording studio while saving their balls-to-the-wall rocking for their live performances. Think if Man Man toned down the crazy a little bit and joined a Good Life cover band. They also get bonus points for using a brass section without getting the least bit cheesy with it.
Recommended Listening: “Mom Cop” off of 2009’s EP Calling You Out. The band recently just digitally released their full-length debut Barry and Sherry.
Pitchfork Says: Nothing at all, actually. Yeah, it’s pretty weird…
Watch Them: 1:00 Saturday on the Balance Stage.
Band: Sharon Van Etten
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Sounds Like: The most haunting folk music you’ve heard in a long time. Van Etten’s soulful voice demands immediate attention, and her sparse acoustic strumming makes it all the more unforgettable. The girl has lyrical chops to top it off, but that voice…you really just have to hear it. Think of Azure Ray at their creative peak but one voice more than making up for Azure Ray’s dense harmonies. Also, everyone you read will compare her to early Cat Power. This will be the quietist show of the entire festival, predominantly because (if the sound is in order) everyone will be too dumbfounded to do anything than stand stupidly, mouths agape in a total trance-like state.
Recommended Listening: “For You” from her 2009 debut, Because I was In Love, released on Language of Stone.
Pitchfork Says: “And, at the risk of conflating the performer with her performance, suffice to say that throughout the album Van Etten really nails it, sounding every bit like someone trying to get her head around a complex and evolving relationship.”
Watch Her: 3:30 Friday on the Aluminum Stage.
Band: Best Coast
Hometown: Los Angeles
Sounds Like: Exactly the kind of band Pitchfork gets behind, but a whole lot more fun. Last year aka The Year of Reverb aka Wavves’ Year, lo-fi came back into the world of widespread critical approval. The only thing it lacked at the time, unfortunately, was any remnant of accessibility that would give it lasting popularity. Enter Best Coast with an easily danceable tempo and the kind of cute “teenager in love” lyrics that get stuck in your head for weeks. So grab your swim trunks or yellow polka-dot bikini and head to your nearest beach to twist the night away with your favorite Dude or Betty. It’s your only option at this point, so deal with it.
Recommended Listening: “When I’m With You” from the band’s forthcoming debut, Crazy For You, out July 27 on Mexican Summer. The video alone is worth your time.
Pitchfork Says: “(Singer-songwriter Bethany) Cosentino makes lo-fi garage-pop informed by 1960s girl groups and 1990s alt grrls.”
Watch Them: 1:55 Sunday on the Balance Stage.
Band: Dâm Funk
Hometown: Los Angeles
Sounds Like: Funk and electronica’s bastard child. This west coast DJ and occasional vocalist is, for better or worse, one of many current electronic musicians whose artistic creations could easily be labeled by critics as “chill,” It’s funny how only a couple of years ago, when Girl Talk was the big new thing, all anyone wanted to do was party. Now, it just seems like we all want to relax. Still, Dâm Funk is something all his own, when bloops and bleeps being used in a pleasantly unexpected way and an innovative approach to the idea of “funk.”
Recommended Listening: The upbeat track “Mirrors” from last year’s debut, Toeachhizown, out now on Stones Throw.
Pitchfork Says: “This isn’t a comedic tribute to talkboxes and widebrims; there’s no Snoop Dogg descending a foggy staircase through a faded VHS haze here. Toeachizown is a deep, astute collection that feels like a natural resuscitation and progression of funk as it stood just before hip-hop usurped it.”
Watch Him: 3:45 Saturday on the Balance Stage.
Sounds Like: The rebirth of krautrock, though just because they speak English doesn’t mean you’ll understand what they say at all. The thing that makes a proggy psychedelic band good is their ability to play around a beat or tempo without getting too “jammy,” thus boring us and forcing us to compare them to the String Cheese Incident or something. Luckily, Cave is able to groove like your favorite German bands from the 1970s, though they might not have the same stage presence of one Damo Suzuki as he trips face. So, if you’re at Pitchfork and jonesing for a little Can or even some Battles-esque action, these Chicago locals should hold you over for the time being while causing periodic deafness.
Recommended Listening: “Made in Malaysia” from 2009’s Psychic Psummer, out on Important.
Pitchfork Says: “It takes an immense amount of structuring and sweat on their end for you to drift away on yours, and the result is so seamless they make it look easy.”
Watch Them: 1:00 Sunday on the Balance Stage.
Band: The Smith Westerns
Sounds Like: Lovesick lo-fi. These young Windy City kids are fresh out of high school and easily appeal to the same crowd that Best Coast does. The difference though is that, well, the songs are from a guy’s perspective, and they would rather chug along at a slow to moderate tempo than kick it into high gear, lest their dreamy sadness/horniness sound a little too Black Lips and lose its underlying folk influence. They’ve toured with Girls, another similar band on festival’s lineup, and they come off as a little more twee than emo. It’s cuteness with a dash of silliness and a touch of Bowie, with the volume level cranked – an early contender for Pitchfork’s heartthrobs of the year.
Recommeded Listening: “Girl in Love” from last year’s self-title debut, released on HoZac Records.
Pitchfork Says: “Rummaging through 1970s glam, Phil Spector teen-pop, and Nuggets garage-punk with the youthful abandon of kids finding new toys in the attic, the Smith Westerns’ self-titled debut exudes an earnestness almost as pure as its recording levels are deafening.”
Watch Them: 4:45 Saturday on the Balance Stage.
Band: Cap’n Jazz
Sounds Like: Wait, hold up. These guys aren’t playing Pitchfork, so why are they on here? Well, these godfathers of Midwest emo (before, you know, it started to suck) are officially reuniting in their hometown 15 years after their breakup. They’re playing two shows Saturday and Sunday night at the Bottom Lounge, a mere block away from Union Park, after the city’s 10 pm outdoor noise ordinance shuts the festival down. Both shows are sold out, but, as with any Chicago sellout, there will be scalpers a plenty. Why should you care? Well, this band’s members would go on to spawn the likes of The Promise Ring, Maritime, Owen, Joan of Arc, American Football, Owls, Ghosts and Vodka and Make Believe to name a few, and would go on to influence countless others.
Recommended Listening: “Little League” off the band’s re-released 1998 anthology Analphabetapolothology out on Jade Tree.
Pitchfork Says: “Every generation of indie kids has their own musical Holy Grail. Like Slint’s Spiderland or Rodan’s Rusty, it’s usually a bold, epic, almost revolutionary statement created by a band that has long since broken up and spawned other excellent bands, despite their never managing to escape the shadow of that one incredible album. Cap’n Jazz, a young, volatile Chicago band that broke up in 1995, fits this description perfectly.”
Watch Them: 9:00 Saturday with openers Gauge and Plague Bringer; 9:00 Sunday with openers Gauge and Tongues. The Bottom Lounge: 1375 W. Lake Street, Chicago.