On July 18, the Pitchfork Music Festival will return to Chicago’s Union Park for its third year; well, fourth, if you count the year Pitchfork co-sponsored the Intonation Music Festival. But before you head to Union Park to stake out a spot for Public Enemy, do some research and experience some of Pitchfork 2008’s best with these albums.

Animal Collective Strawberry Jam

Saturday night headliner Animal Collective is easily one of the most unique and innovative bands since their beginnings in 2000. Focusing primarily on vocal melodies, the album showcases a dual-frontman relationship between members Avey Tare and Panda Bear. Despite the differences in their songwriting, the album comes together as a cohesive work. With its thrashing percussion, bubbly sound effects and unconventional song structures, Strawberry Jam can easily be overwhelming, yet, amidst the noise and screams, it contains true moments of beauty rarely found in modern music.

Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes

Seattle’s Fleet Foxes have been gaining steam since the release of their Sun Giant EP in February. Lead singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold’s voice has been compared to Jim James’ in nearly every review and, though their voices are eerily similar, there are multiple distinctions between the two bands. If My Morning Jacket is the typical southern-guitar slinger, then Fleet Foxes is the Appalachian mountain man playing the banjo. Fleet Foxes rolls along more like a story than an album by focusing more on musical flow than conventional song writing.

The Hold Steady Boys and Girls in America

The Hold Steady have been dishing out their brand of bar rock since 2004, but it wasn’t until the release of Boys and Girls in America in 2006 that the band started garnering the attention they deserve. With lyrical content focusing primarily on sex, drugs, and religion, the album plays like our generation’s manifesto towards achieving grandeur. Craig Finn’s style of talk-singing may turn off some listeners, but his ability to combine youthful antics with spiritual significance is a true testament to his lyrical genius.

King Khan and the Shrines The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines

No band better captures the sounds of ‘60s psychedelic soul than King Khan and the Shrines. Originally from Canada, King Khan has been releasing albums in Europe for nearly 10 years and has now finally made his way stateside. Praised for their insanely wild live show, they are a wild mess of psychedelic funk and soul. If James Brown had grown up only listening to lo-fi garage rock, the result would be something close to King Khan, but probably not as good.

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