Celebrating its 13th year, Pitchfork Music Festival makes Chicago's Union Park its home again for the weekend of July 20th. With less than a month left, Hooligan writers have come together to highlight some of this year's non-men playing the festival who have undeniably proved to be music's emerging artists right now and forever - with performances by legendary talents like Chaka Khan, Ms. Lauryn Hill and Courtney Barnett, to rising artists like Syd, Ravyn Lenae, and Lucy Dacus, we've put together the perfect list of must-see sets throughout the weekend, our favorite lyrics, and why you're gonna dig them.
by Tim Crisp
An unforgiving early afternoon sun is an ideal set piece for experiencing the relentless attack of Chicago rockers Melkbelly. The quartet plays a brand of Breeders-influenced grunge, with squealing guitars that beat down on your ears, while vocalist Miranda Winters seeks to give you nightmares with her all-seeing command. Crunchy low down guitars center the songs while everyone works to add to the fury. It’s the product of DIY veterans from several subsets of your host city’s music community, with members’ previous projects spanning from dark folk to jazz to noise. The music of Melkbelly is chaotic and deliberate, foaming at the mouth to insight discomfort while you, the listener, can’t help but ask for more.
Favorite lyrics: “Concrete is raw, concrete is cold / This slouch is weighted too” - “R.O.R.O.B”
You’ll dig it if: You came for feedback and paranoia
by Rosie Accola
Lucy Dacus’ sophomore release, Historian, is one of the most well-crafted records of 2018. The tracks move seamlessly between upbeat laments (“Addictions”) and gritty, rock ‘n’ roll treatsies (“TimeFighter”). Dacus’ is a master lyricist, incorporating a sense of narrative that mirrors the structure of a short story rather than a song. In “Nonbeliever” she sings, “You threw your books into the river/ told your mom that you’re a nonbeliever./ She said she wasn’t surprised/ but that doesn’t make it okay.” Other songs like “The Shell” contemplate the merits of making art, a good old existential crisis accompanied by some killer riffs. What’s not to love?
You’ll dig it if: You’re in the middle of a compelling short story collection or a break up, you know the merit of a good air guitar solo, you’re enraptured by the vast unending beauty of the south.
Favorite lyrics: “Freeze frame, tidal wave in the passenger side/I'm still a nervous kid/after all this time” - "Addictions"
by Rivka Yeker
Singer-songwriter Julie Byrne takes you back to quiet memories we reflect on during train commutes and long car drives. Her humble voice, while filled with power, rests as a lullaby, quietly soothing and calming the nervous system. She sings of an arms-width loneliness, a songwriting trademark, riddled with the vastness of emotion and physical distance. Her most recent record Not Even Happiness resembles the strange discomfort we feel when we find love, after spending so long being alone.
Favorite lyrics: “Couldn’t hold my misery down, not even for you / It bore me on all the places I ever gone /I grew so accustomed to that kind of solitude /But I long for you now even when you just leave the room” - “Sleepwalker”
You’ll dig it if: You like Mazzy Star but folkier, poetry, falling into a deep self-reflexive trance
The former sultry and sexy R&B singer from The Internet recently wowed us with her Solo album Fin. Syd has a slick, sexy, and confident sound that immediately puts you into her trance. You might know her from any of the three albums she put out with The Internet and is now truly finding and defining her own sound. Fin, while a hot album, is especially exciting for queer listeners as Syd explores some sensual moments in tracks like “Drown in it “ or “Body”. Her decision to go solo is an important moment for queer visibility in rap and it will be exciting to see how she continues to wow us with her talent. This is definitely the show to pull up with a boo or crush. The romantic and intimate energy of this album is sure to promise a vibey time.
Favorite lyrics: “The bed is your stage/Take it away/Put on a show/Put on a play/Don't ask babe/know I'm your number one fan babe “ - “Body”
You’ll dig if : You like sexy and sensual music, you liked The Internet, if you appreciate all the nuances of R&B.
The deeply affecting Julien Baker combines her raw, yearning vocals with ruminations on faith, sobriety, and mental illness. Her journey of self-reckoning, revealed both on sparser first album Sprained Ankle and the lush follow-up Turn Out the Lights, expound upon mental illness and an ever-changing sense of self-worth. But despite the oft-heavy lyrics and subject matter, Baker’s folk-tinged music has a certain warmth to it, inflected with hope: beyond the vulnerable tracks, on Turn Out the Lights’ final song “Claws in Your Back,” she tells us: “I take it all back, I change my mind / I wanted to stay.”
You'll dig this if: You want to hear intimacy
by Sara McCall
With their debut LP Masterpiece (2016), the four-piece Brooklyn band showed up with powerful guitars and punchy drums, pandering to both folk and alt-rock audiences. However, it’s Big Thief’s most recent release Capacity, which shows off a kind of control and composition that bolsters the band as serious musicians, changing the landscape of folk music. Listening to either album, Masterpiece or Capacity, entirely through bears with it a catharsis— between guitars soft and harsh, lyrics that hide and reveal, vocals that whisper and yell these songs sweat with an intensity and depth. Singer-guitarist Adrianne Lenker sings heavy-heartedly of family dynamics, love, trauma, beauty, and corporeality whilst co-writer and guitarist Buck Meek creates an unassuming but complex musical backdrop for Lenker’s alluring voice, offering a gorgeous new folk, a new representation of the midwest — an almost myth-y one that lives in shrapnel, headlights, oak trees, boyfriends knives, blood and long stretches of highway, oh and lots of reverb.
Favorite Lyrics: “There is a child inside you/ who is trying to raise a child in me/if you want to leave/ you just have to say/ you’re all caught up inside” – "Mythological Beauty"
You’ll dig Big Thief if you party to Frankie Cosmos but wake up to Sharon Van Etten —specifically Tramp at 7:30 am.
by Cody Corrall
Courtney Barnett’s sophomore studio album Tell Me How You Really Feel provides a rambling retrospective on her personal evolution as well as her identity as a songwriter. Barnett cemented her cult following with her often monologue-like lyricism in her debut album Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit as well as well as her two EP’s: I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris and How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose. Barnett’s strengths lie in her lyrics, which are equally poignant as they are nonsensical, and are underscored by strong psychedelic and rock sensibilities throughout the album. Tell Me How You Really Feel discusses the complexities of rape culture, relationships and what it means to be at a loss for the right words - even when there are so many bubbling at the top of your tongue.
Favorite lyrics: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them / I hold my keys / Between my fingers” - “Nameless, Faceless”
You’ll dig it if: You like the folksy lyricism of Angel Olsen’s Sister, the tender rock’n’roll of The Cranberries’ Tomorrow, the guitar stylings of Margaret Glaspy’s Emotions and Math and the emotional retrospective of Lucy Dacus’ Night Shift.
by Rivka Yeker
I said, “I want something powerful, dark, and feminine,” and someone dropped Zola Jesus onto my lap. Her music is a wall of sound, a climactic crescendo all rooted in a goth influenced pop foundation. Her is the combination of Lana Del Ray and Chelsea Wolfe, which allows for a cryptic yet bold sensation. I envision an intricate and intense dance number choreographed to all her records, especially when the strings and choir paired with electronics all create a full body listening experience.
Favorite lyrics: “Take me to the water / I am not free but I am sorry, I am stone /
You should know I would never let you down” - “Soak”
You’ll dig it if: you loved Evanescence, goth shit, you love feeling your body entirely moved by sound.
by Charia Rose
British born and bred, Nilüfer Yanya has made guitar centric music sexy again. A delicious smoothie of jazz, pop and indie-rock, Nilüfer has created a world all her own with her EP’s Plant Based and most recently, Do You Like Pain? The music feels like a dream; sounds that would play softly out of a 10th floor apartment on a breezy summer evening, t-shirts sticking to sweaty skin after a long, joyful day. Her lyrics take on a storytelling quality, making that cool, loose vibe all the more vivid. There is a infallible confidence in the music, her self-taught guitar style leading the way with slick riffs taking center stage.. Her vocals remind you of the void Amy Winehouse has left; that jazzy alto timbre creating a sense of raw passion. Nilüfer takes the notions that guitar music is dead, gives a hearty “fuck you” and creates something all her own.
Favorite Lyrics: “You just watch that coming tide / We won't even have to shout / 'Cause not even words can find a way out / You just relax and I'll kill the time” - “Keep on Calling”
You’ll Dig it If: Your favorite Amy Winehouse tracks are the stripped down demo versions, indie-rock with soul, music that takes you on a journey.
Bops to Get You Started: “Golden Cage”, “Baby Luv”, “The Florist”
circuit des yeux
by Rosie Accola
There is something about Hayley Fohr a.k.a Circut Des Yeux’s voice that reaches into your bones -- it’s rich and raw, born to tell a story. I first saw Fohr two years ago at Thalia Hall when she opened for everyone’s goth-rock Godfather, Peter Murphy. From the moment Fohr picked up a guitar and started to sing, I was enthralled. I’d never seen someone command their voice as a vocal instrument with as much strength and precision, it reverberated through the venue from the rafters to the historied floorboards. Fohr worked with a pedal board and guitar to create a multifaceted sound piling seemingly endless layers onto reverb and vocals with a thoughtful intensity. I imagined that this was how audiences felt watching Patti Smith get her start in the ‘70s, as if they were witnessing someone experiencing a revelation onstage, letting their voice and their guitar take them wherever they needed to go.
Favorite Lyrics: “There is something deep/ inside of you/ something that’s worth reaching into” -- “Do the Dishes”
You’ll Dig it If: You’re into artists with an alt. Country vibe, “Horses” is still one of your “Top 10 Greatest Albums”, You like your narratives and your pedal boards to be stacked.
by Violet Foulk
LA-born indie rock duo Girlpool, comprised of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, released their sophomore LP Powerplant last spring. The record is chock-full of delicate vocals churning out poetic lyrics, paired with steady, powerful guitar chords. The band’s sound has become fuller since their debut track, ‘Ideal World’ in 2015, which had no drums, singing “Put me on a food stamp / And a Hallmark card / Tranquilize me with your ideal world.” Powerplant is home to more genius songwriting, beginning with the ethereal first verse of ‘123’ that quickly builds into a powerful introduction to the band’s completed new sound. The record includes a total of twelve cohesive tracks; highlights include pretty title track, ‘Powerplant,’ and the steady drumbeat-driven closer, ‘Static Somewhere.’
The duo just dropped a new single, ‘Picturesong’ - an unexpected collaboration with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. Beginning slowly, the track is a slow-building melodic dream featuring the classic vocals known of Girlpool, with a climax of hazy guitar chords at the bridge.
Favorite lyrics: “You say you'll cut your bangs / I'm calling your bluff / When you lie to me it's in the small stuff” - “Cut Your Bangs”
You’ll dig it if: you love driving with the windows down, blasting spunky indie artists like Adult Mom and Diet Cig.
by Charia Rose
With the voice of a whispering angel, Kelela (pronounced Kuh-luh-lah) has set the r&b world on fire with her EP Hallucinogen, and now, her debut studio LP Take Me Apart. Her vocals slip through lyrics of redemption and heartbreak with an ease so stunning it may leave you in awe, whispering, “what the hell” to yourself over and over (maybe it’s just me!). In a renewed era of whisper queen r&b, Kelela has a depth to the softness of her voice. It’s a bird calling you awake, harmonies filling you like a warm broth on a cool day; her voice is comfort. She sings with a brutal honesty, songs like “All the Way Down” take on the rollercoaster of overthinking a relationship before leaning in and no longer “giving a fuck”.
“Altadena” serves as a love letter to the often forgotten black and queer folks hustling to get by.
Deciding at 29 to quit her corporate job to pursue music, Kelela embodies the notion that following the things that uplift and embolden you can turn into something beautiful, healing and completely you.
You’ll Dig it if: You like crying, soft bops, Solange, stacks on stacks of harmonies, queer black women laying their hearts open so that, we too, feel seen.
Favorite lyrics: “That other thing is you keep holding back / All the light you keep brings out the darkness in me / You're so bottled up inside / Spell it out before we divide” - “Turn to Dust”
Bops to Get You Started: “All the Way Down”, “Take Me Apart”, “LMK”, “A Message”
kelly lee owens
As any well versed Pitchfork goer knows, making it for the artists earlier on in the day can be a difficult feat; however, you will seriously regret not making it for Kelly Lee Owens’ set. Owens is a producer, songwriter, and singer from Wales who got her start working with artists like Daniel Avery. Her first EP Oleic, which dropped in 2016, features songs governed by a strong beat and impressive synth-work, reminiscent of old-school garage. Her first self titled album came out in 2017 which takes dreamy synths and layers Owens’ eerie voice on top of it all. The album itself shows great range, tracks like “Bird” are bops which instantly turn my bedroom into a club dance floor; whereas, tracks like “S.O” are so moody and captivating that they put me in a semi-meditative trance. Kelly Lee Owens helps me embrace my inner club kid.
Favorite lyrics: from the track Anxi. (feat. Jenny Hval) “I have come to believe family and reality/Keeping it together, keeping it together/This is the narrative of reality”
You’ll dig it if: You really liked the movie “Party Monster” and spend your free time watching old videos of illegal raves.
by Cody Corrall
Chicago native Ravyn Lenae echoes disjointed poetry over bubbly, dizzy and colorful instrumentals. At just 19 years old, Lenae is already making a name for herself with three EP’s and has spent the last year opening for Noname’s Telefone tour and SZA’s CTRL tour. Her most recent EP, Crush, is a dreamy collaboration with 20-year-old producer Steve Lacy that questions intimacy and romance in the digital era. Lenae’s vocals are ephemeral: they seem to float over Lacy’s guitar grooves as they explore their various musical styles and find harmony. In 5 songs, Lenae is able to encapsulate a longing for closeness that has been lost in an online age of romance and the expectations that come along with it.
Favorite lyrics: I get jealous / When you don't wanna give this a chance / But then you wanna hold hands (what do you want?) / I get jealous / When you can move around how you please (Ooo, you never thinking of me) - “4 Leaf Clover”
You’ll dig it if: You like the android soul of Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, the groove of Steve Lacy and The Internet’s single Come Over and the disconnected dystopian romance of Rina Sawayama’s EP Rina.
by Rosie Accola
Japanese Breakfast’s sophomore release is aptly titled Soft Sounds from Another Planet. Singer/ guitarist Michelle Zauner creates lush soundscapes that ooze extraterrestrial synth that calms and elevates your consciousness. If aliens had a five star spa, they’d pipe Japanese Breakfast through speakers in the lobby. Rather than ambient, I’d pose that Zauner’s songs have the capacity to transport the listener, these songs don’t just create a mood, they take the listener to another astral plane. As a lyricist, Zauner has a talent for exploring the most intimate nooks of a weathered partnership, several of the songs on this record deal with themes of , domesticy and what it takes to really stick around. On “12 Steps” Zauner sings, “So tell me, "I can’t blame you, we let love run its course/And it's a little bit lonelier/I don’t blame you / It's just our love ran its course/ and that's a little bit hard." Yet, rather than succumb to a bout of cynicism over the tenuous nature of human connection, Zauner uses the innately fragile nature of relationships as a source of strength, reminding us all that it’s incredibly brave to just… show up.
Favorite lyrics: “We aren't bound by law/We aren't bound by anything at all/Just you/If you decide to show/Just if you decide to show up on time” -- “Jimmy Fallon Big!”
You’ll Dig it If: You’re directing your own queer rom-com in your head, “Stranger Things” makes you wish synths accompanied your every waking moment, you like it when your rock ‘n’ roll feels a little celestial, you have big dreams and thoughts about how everything’s cosmically connected.
This is a performance you really won’t want to miss. It’s been two years since the release of her debut album Telefone, yet I still find myself constantly returning to this masterpiece. Noname’s raps, like poetry put to music, are weary yet hopeful. She tells tragedy and beauty together in a way that draws you in and really resonates in the soul. With features from Chicago locals like Akenya, Saba, and the Mind, Telefone is a deeply intimate project that captures and narrates the energy of Chicago and in a very important way. With the announcement of a new album Room 25 this performance is sure to be a magical one.
Favorite lyrics: “I used to have a name that look like butterflies and Hennessy/ I’ll trade it up for happiness but joyful don’t remember me” - “Sunny Duet”
You’ll dig it if: You love rap and the Chicago sound and appreciate music that finds itself at the intersection of art and the political. If Smino, Saba, Chance the Rapper and Tierra Whack are your sounds then you’ll definitely bop to Noname
by Charia Rose
With a career spanning over 40 years, Chaka Khan is a name that, if you were raised in a home filled with an appreciation for funk and simply good music, you know. A vocal powerhouse who has worked with Stevie Wonder, Prince, Quincy Jones, and other artists that we can only classify as legends, Chaka has reinvented herself throughout the many years and changes in the industry. She has transcended funk to rock to jazz to dance as easy as the deep breaths she takes before a well supported note. There is no denying her influence on the industry, her ability to fuse multiple genres into timeless bops and tear jerkers that artists are still sampling today (“Through the Wire” by Pre-Kardashian-Slavery-Was-A-Choice Kanye West may come to mind). Seriously, she is responsible for one of the longest running “who did it better” arguments between music lovers: Chaka or Whitney’s “I’m Every Woman”?
Even if you don’t know her catalogue, there is no better history lesson than experiencing one of the original Divas live.
Favorite lyrics: “And without me you'd stumble / And without you I'd fall / Without each other we would not be at all” - ”I Know You, I Live You”
You’ll dig it if: You appreciate legends, want to hear vocals that will blow your wig back, love funk and find yourself saying “man, they don’t make em like this anymore!”
Bops to get you started: “I’m Every Woman”, “Tell Me Something Good”, “Through the Fire”, “And the Memory Still Lingers On (A Night in Tunisia)”
ms. lauryn hill
by Charia Rosie
Ms. Lauryn Hill is another level of iconic. She released one solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill exactly 20 years ago, and the world has been turning differently ever since. Her life has been one worthy of a biopic; baby daddy drama, tax evasion and taking fashionably late to an extreme that makes Mariah Carey look like Father Time. Regardless of all that, Ms. Lauryn crafted some of the most memorable moments in r&b and hip-hop (she was rapping and singing her own hooks before the men could figure out autotune). Songs like “Doo-Wop [That Thing]” tackle the conversation of how both men and women can damage each other in relationships. Her songwriting ability has never ran from brutal honesty and consistently questions society and how we exist within it. Her life is her own, and her decision to leave music at the apex of her career because she wanted to live a new life is empowering beyond measure. Being the sole female member of the hip-hop trio the Fugees, her contributions of thoughtful and rock hard bars have made her one of the most respected female MC’s of all time, and in my humble opinion, one of the best to ever do it regardless of gender identity. Her voice is so deep and rich it’s like drinking a good cup of coffee, with just a dash of Bailey’s. She may not be on the stage at the exact start time, but stick around and you might hear a live mash-up of her hit “Ex-Factor” with the song of the summer, Drake’s “Nice For What”. You will realize that even after all these years, she needs no introduction and has always been worth the wait.
Favorite Lyrics: “Woe this crazy circumstance / I knew his life deserved a chance / But everybody told me to be smart / Look at your career they said, / ‘Lauryn, baby, use your head.’ / But instead I chose to use my heart” - “To Zion”
You’ll Dig It If: You appreciate 90’s hip-hop neo soul, respect legends, believe that music can be healing and uplifting