The lineup for the sixth Pitchfork Music Festival is typically diverse and occasionally challenging, featuring headliners such as James Blake, Animal Collective, Neko Case, DJ Shadow, Zola Jesus, Fleet Foxes, Cut Copy, HEALTH and TV on the Radio.
There's a lot to see -- and hear -- so here are three don't-miss acts from each day of the festival:
Erika M. Anderson, 28, moved to California from her native South Dakota and honed her rock skills in indie bands such as the Gowns and the folk-metal mash-up Amps for Christ. Her recent solo debut, "Past Life Martyred Saints," ignited music blogs with its PJ Harvey-esque power and thunderous dynamics. Intense and moody, Anderson wields an old-soul lyricism that allowed her to transform Robert Johnson's "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" (on her first single, "Grey Ship") into a breathtaking 17-minute epic rather than the rookie stumble it could have been. The Penelope Houston of indie-rock?
3:30 p.m. on the Red Stage
Merrill Garbus' inventive weaves of recorded loops and fluttery vocals have expanded noise-pop to a level of joy not often explored. On the albums "Bird Brains" and this year's "W H O K I L L," she stretches and knits sounds for results at once urban, folky and sometimes worldly. In concert, she gets the audience involved, sampling the crowd's voices into a crazed choir, before bashing about with a ukulele and shrieking like a banshee. It's as if Bjork stars in the movie "Happy-Go-Lucky," and it's a blast.
4:30 p.m. on the Blue Stage
Sunday at Pitchfork is a hip-hop group that's generated a lot of controversy very quickly, but Friday there's one that's polarizing in a different way. This bi-coastal trio celebrates hip-hop almost as much as it makes fun of it, sometimes going for the joke a la the Beastie Boys but more often twisting the genre's natural wordplay into surreal pretzels. Call them deconstructive or damn funny, their albums and mix tapes inspire further thought about what exactly hip-hop still is.
6:30 p.m. on the Blue Stage
A project built around the darkwave fetish of former Some Girls singer (and Heartworm Press art-book publisher!) Wesley Eisold, Cold Cave takes the sound of John Hughes-movie dance-pop -- think New Order, OMD, Love & Rockets -- and moves it forward, just beyond the reach of nostalgia. Danceable, dark, delicious. (Trivia: Eisold's the guy who sued Fall Out Boy a few years ago over some "borrowed" lyrics.)
2:30 p.m. on the Green Stage
By all means, try to catch some of the other Shadow a few minutes before (Twin Shadow, great rhythmic crooning, 6:45 p.m. on the Blue Stage), but DJ Shadow is the brightest hope Saturday evening. With four albums in 15 years -- the fourth, "The Less You Know, the Better," due this fall -- Josh Davis, under the DJ Shadow moniker, has been deeply influential on beat music in that time. Mixing up funk, rock, slow jams, jazz, ambient music, whatever works, his mostly instrumental music is always worth hearing.
7:25 p.m. on the Red Stage
As appealing to fans of folk music of the '70s as to regular visitors of Renaissance fairs, the music of Fleet Foxes comes on with exquisite backwoods harmonies, plaintively expressing hopes, yearnings, needs. When the band played Pitchfork in 2008, they were still linked musically and lyrically to the "Blue Ridge Mountains," but the follow-up is more worldly, with a greater diversity (and proficiency) of instruments. Whereas they introduced themselves sounding like a reupholstered Fairport Convention, now Fleet Foxes begin to sound like their own animal.
8:30 p.m. on the Green Stage
HOW TO DRESS WELL
Pitchfork once again has plenty of chill-out groups for those languid summer afternoons in the park, but we're still partial to occasional Chicago resident Tom Krell and his music that swells from ambient and airy to spectral and scary before you realize what's happened. Underneath his ghostly chillwave is the hint of a pulse, usually a New Jack groove sampled from his beloved '90s R&B, from the ethereal "Ready for the World" to his solo piano take on R. Kelly's "I Wish."
1:55 p.m. on the Blue Stage
Normally, I'd try not to recommend too many nostalgia acts, but Superchunk -- formed in 1989 in North Carolina and a stalwart of '90s alt-rock, not to mention DIY cred -- recently released an inspiring comeback album, "Majesty Shredding," the band's first since 2001, that's remarkably forward-thinking and just plain tight. It revisits the band's classic sound -- the biting two-guitar attack is still toothy -- without melting into reminiscence or solipsism, but also looks ahead and creates an entire new one. A welcome step forward.
5:15 p.m. on the Red Stage
In the middle of Chicago's winter, Australia's Cut Copy dropped a new album, "Zonoscope," that floated on summery melodies and breezy beats. Now that the northern hemisphere's weather has caught up with them, this quartet trots out the new tunes and more, blending springy rhythms with retro synths and a naturally sunny disposition. It's dance music for people who think they don't like dance music.
7:25 p.m. on the Red Stage
PITCHFORK MUSIC FESTIVAL
• 3-10 p.m. July 15, noon-10 p.m. July 16-17
• Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph
• Three-day passes are sold out. Individual tickets for July 17 are sold out, but remain for July 15 and 16: $45, (866) 777-8932, pitchforkmusicfestival.com.