By Mark Guarino
The synthesizer was the instrument of choice for most bands for the duration of Pitchfork; however no band put it to better use than Mew. The Danish quintet played disco-funk designed for arenas. The romanticism of the band's ambitious songs and the octave-climbing vocals of singer Jonas Bjerre peaked in long, fragmented songs like "Special" that featured irresistible pop choruses that, despite their repetition, was cathartic.
Throughout the set, Bjerre demonstrated just how high the ceiling is on his vocal range, at one point emulating the sped-up production style of Kanye West. The electronic crunch that lined most songs contrasted the band's song structures, which were peppered with sweet spots and always felt like a journey worth taking.
The all-girl pop-punk trio Vivian Girls did not try to sew up their ragged edges, instead they let them freely hang loose with pride. With a single album to their name, the band lacks serious songwriting skills; they make up for it with three-part harmonies that were more ominous than saccharine. Bassist Kickball Katy delivered chunky bass lines under Cassie Ramone's de-tuned guitar riffs; the result was a heavy and loud dose of rock primitivism that never sounded fresher.
Canadian quartet Women struck to mostly instrumentals that felt more academic than emotionally engaged. The noise-punk band follows in the steps of Fugazi for its rhythmically complex but lean song structures, except for Women, the music never triggered a release. Instead, the band played songs with long instrumental passages designed for trickery; the bad part was how, mid-way through, the crowd's growing disinterest showed no one wanted to play their hand.
Despite a name that implies reservation and conservative choices, Japandroids was all bedlam. Like many guitar-drum duos, the band illustrated how much noise can be plied from two instruments and considerable pent-up energy. Yet unlike the White Stripes or the Black Keys, guitarist Brian King and drummer David Prowse uprooted and threw away the blues roots to the music and instead locked into play for songs made for the dance floor. King often played atop a platform, conducting the crowd with his instrument that, in sections, sprayed noise to which Prowse brought order. The pair traded vocals that were mostly indistinguishable; what wasn't was how they got the audience to connect -- by the set's end, there wasn't a person not transfixed by the dirty grooves.
Mark Guarino is a Chicago-based journalist. Visit mark-guarino.com.