Every jam-packed music festival inevitably winds up with a schedule that pits a couple formidable acts against one another in the same time slot. Sometimes, there’s a short window of opportunity—15, 20, 30 minutes or so—that allows for the adventurous and non-fatigued attendees to catch at least part of each act’s set.
The first two hours of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival has one particularly difficult scheduling issue to grapple with: Tune-yards start their set at 4:30 p.m. at the Blue Stage, while Battles begin five minutes later at the Green Stage. This year both acts have put out impressive albums that have received plenty of critical acclaim. Both have a sound mired in complex, off-kilter and seemingly inaccessible arrangements that are carefully layered and executed with a style that’s downright pop friendly
Tune-yards (or tUnE-YarDs if your auto-correct prefers it) dropped their second full-length album, whokill (or w h o k i l l), on 4AD back in April. What started as Merrill Garbus layering audio samples in Audacity has since grown into a full-on avant-garde band that critics can wax lyrically about and music fans can enjoy on a warm summer evening—or anytime, really. Tune-yards’ new album is sleek and elegantly produced, a step-up from the lo-fi quality of the band’s debut, but it hardly cuts out the eclecticisms that helped the group garner a cult following. Their garage-sale style instrumentation and Garbus’s mesmerizing vocals are still there on whokill: Garbus’s lyrics are sharp and smart, as she balances concepts about identity, female empowerment, and society all while leaving no vocal hook unused.
Like tune-yards, Battles have undergone some changes on their new album for Warp, Gloss Drop. Tyondai Braxton left the group last August, as did his oft-high-pitched, warped vocals that seemed so central to the band’s sound. “Seemed” is apt, as Gloss Drop makes it pretty clear that the trio can still crank out funky, mathy jams as spaced-out as anything on their debut record, Mirrored. True, they recruited some guests to sing on the album—Matias Aguayo’s reverbed vocals on “Ice Cream” and Kazu Makino’s spot on “Sweetie & Shag” hit the spot. But perhaps the best thing about Gloss Drop is that despite the changes they’ve gone through, Battles sounds like they’re the same band that came out of left field in 2007.
Yet, that the band has no singer could be a big deciding factor to some folks’ choice of who to see during that fated 4:30-ish time slot come Friday. Folks at festivals seem primed to prefer bands with clearly established frontpersons, which is something Battles never really cared to focus on in the first place, even with Braxton in the fold. Still, for those unable to decide, you can always catch half of each act.
Then again, if neither suit your fancy, you can always walk around the festival grounds and figure out if you’d rather watch Curren$y or Thurston Moore at 5:30 p.m.