Two days down, one left to go. While I’m always impressed with the general lineup and flow of the schedule for just about any day of the Pitchfork Music Festival on any given year, there was something about Saturday this year that stood out. I had a strange sense of uncertainty about how some of the performances would go, and about how the crowds would react to them. Sometimes you’re expecting a rousing success and instead it turns out to be a tepid mess that nobody likes. Other times you watch an artist pouring his or her heart out while a bunch of people chat instead of paying attention to what’s happening on stage. The music festival world can be a complex and fickle beast. So on a day where it felt like there were more question marks about artists than usual, I’m pleased to report that the entire day went tremendously well. So much so that it handily bested Friday and I can’t imagine Sunday improving upon it. But we’ll just have to wait and see! In the meantime, please join me after the jump for a lengthy summary of every performance I witnessed on Saturday. They’re all sorted by paragraph, with the artist name bolded for easier navigation. I’ll be sharing a full photo set from Saturday at some point in the coming days, so keep an eye out for that!
Tag: pj harvey
One of the things I admire most about the Pitchfork Music Festival every year is the dedication to crafting a lineup that’s diverse in style, background and gender. While that is always showcased throughout the entire weekend, it feels particularly prominent on Saturday this year. You can gravitate from rock to folk to funk to pop to R&B to hip hop all in the course of a few hours, and at least half of those artists and bands prominently feature female members. A third have persons of color, though that’s actually the lowest amount of all three days. The point being, other festivals should take note, and make more of an effort to be inclusive. I feel like it creates a better sense of community among the attendees too. The strangers I encounter at Pitchfork Fest every year are among the nicest and coolest people you could ever meet, so don’t be afraid to say hello to me or anyone else.
Okay, let’s get into this preview of Day 2. After dancing yourself clean with LCD Soundsystem the night before, I can understand that it might be hard to get out of bed and be ready to hit it hard first thing the next day, but there are rewards to those willing to show up early. Join me after the jump and I’ll explain why.
Welcome to the beginning of Pitchfork Music Festival Week 2017! It’s become tradition here on Faronheit in the last few years to spend a full seven days celebrating the three day blissful orgy of music that descends upon Chicago every July in the form of the Pitchfork Music Festival. In my opinion, you won’t find a better curated or more diverse festival lineup anywhere other than Pitchfork. They put their brand and reputation on the line to celebrate great and innovative artists across backgrounds and genres. If you’re unaware or ignorant of the festival, perhaps a glance at some past coverage will provide an accurate impression of how things go each year. We couldn’t be more excited to bring you a complete festival guide all week long on Faronheit, which includes day-by-day previews, day-by-day recaps, plus a whole bunch of photos and other media along the way. Whether you’re headed to Union Park this weekend and are unsure about what bands to see, or are interested in the lineup and are looking to vicariously experience the festival without actually going, the hope is you’ll make this site one of your stops for key information and on-the-ground reporting. It’s a pleasure to put this guide together every year, and I hope it’s reflected in the content posted.
Let’s get started by providing a proper introduction to all of the artists set to perform at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017. After the jump you’ll find a Spotify playlist featuring two songs from every single artist on the linup, along with individual links to websites, music videos and more. The Spotify playlist is ordered by day and set time, while everything else is sorted alphabetically. There are plenty of ways to get to know these artists, but obviously listening to their music is the most important of all. So click some links, stream some songs, and begin your education!
Have you heard the new Torres record Sprinter yet? If not, immediately put that on your list of priorities for the week. This sophomore effort takes everything about Mackenzie Scott’s project and harnesses it into something that’s equal parts intense, spiritual and personal. She’s gotten much louder and more aggressive compared to her folk-centric debut, and her lyrics have gone from vague, possibly untrue stories to very specific diary-like entries. To put it another way, a curtain has been torn down, and we’re now hearing more of the living, breathing Torres than ever before. Throw some credit to producer Rob Ellis for helping turn Sprinter into one of the better things 2015 has had to offer so far. Ellis is best known for his work with PJ Harvey, who’s probably as good of a reference point as any to what this album sounds like.
Prior to the release of the record, Torres played a number of shows primarily during and surrounding SXSW in March. The reason it’s worth mentioning is because not only were those performances offering previews of what Sprinter would sound like, but they also felt like something of a coming out party for Scott, the hype building at a fast and furious rate by catching the attention of all the right people. Simply put, Torres has become a hot commodity. Not that she wasn’t back in June of 2013 when she came through Chicago for a show at the Empty Bottle, but like her new record everything is bigger and the shouts of taste makers are louder this time around. She’ll be making a triumphant return to the Bottle next Thursday (May 21st), and all indications are it will be a very exciting and powerful evening. You should definitely be there if you’re in town. It’s a 21+ show, starts at 9PM and tickets are only $10 in advance. Buy them here and thank me later. And just in case you need a little more coersion, stream a couple of the new songs below.
There are more breakup albums out there than can probably be counted at this point, yet the pain and loss of love remains one of the most fascinating topics to explore through music. Artists wouldn’t keep making albums about it if that weren’t the case. Of course writing a breakup album is in itself therapy, a means of dissecting the good and the bad and figuring out just where things went wrong. Scout Niblett appears to know this on her new album It’s Up to Emma, her seventh full length which also turns out to be one of her strongest. Through it’s nine tracks, it traverses the five stages of grief only to come out the other side resilient and empowered once more. Of course it doesn’t necessarily go through those stages in order, which is why the opening track “Gun” is a slow, angry build to a violent end. In a sense it’s about somebody losing their mind over another person’s betrayal, and it’s only emphasized further by distorted, grunge-filtered solo guitar strums and punishing drums. Once we’re dragged into this pit of despair, and essentially following a character that’s difficult to relate to unless you’re a crazy, emotionally unstable person whenever one of your romantic endeavors peters out, there’s the question raised as to why we’d want to take this journey at all. What’s surprising is how this messy relatonship post-mortem slowly changes our perceptions and draws us in despite our reservations. The vulnerability on display via “My Man” sells you this heartbreak by appealing to your empathetic side. This female narrator that Niblett embodies sacrificed everything for this love, and it didn’t work out in the end. We almost want to root for her hopes of rebuilding the failed relationship on “Second Chance Dreams,” but they end up being exactly as the third word of the title suggests. The depression at work in “All Night Long” is harrowing, with pleads to find a way to move past the mental torture of the breakup. The way the guitar and drums interact with one another mirrors those lyrical and vocal cues in such a way that they become the other end of an imaginary conversation.
As It’s Up to Emma spirals towards its inevitable conclusion, “Could This Possibly Be?” comes in like a reality check, pulling us out of this downward spiral to take a step back to better examine exactly why the narrator keeps torturing herself about this guy. It is when she realizes some painful truths about herself that she also finds acceptance on “What Can I Do?”, leading to not necessarily a happy ending to this tumultuous record, but one where there’s a visible light at the end of the tunnel. Beyond the plotline and themes explored on this album, it’s fascinating from an overall instrumental perspective as well. If you’re familiar with previous Niblett records then there’s definitely some familiarity in the sparse blues-style approach she uses here, though this being her first record in 10 years without Steve Albini behind the board there’s a little more polish in the arrangements. The guitars don’t always sound completely scuzzed up, but do retain a certain early ’90s flavor that makes them comparable to that of Cat Power, PJ Harvey, Liz Phair, Nirvana (Unplugged) and Sonic Youth. This is a record that uses silence as a weapon too. Because the narrator is a woman left all alone with her own thoughts and memories of this past relationship, most songs primarily feature a single strummed guitar and vocals, almost definitely performed by Niblett live inside an empty studio. There’s greater power and emotional depth in such an approach, which is practically a requirement here, and the occasional aggressive drums or string section serve only as accoutrements to try and heighten what’s already there. The combination of all these various factors and elements really help make It’s Up to Emma one of Niblett’s most powerful and accessible records to date. Go ahead and put another great breakup album on the big board.
Every year around the start of July, it becomes abundantly clear via the calendar that we’ve hit the halfway point. Six out of twelve months have passed, and given that amount of time it feels appropriate to look back briefly on some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the music we’ve heard thus far. Rather than approach it in a typical “Best Albums” format (no hints as to the “master list” that will emerge in December), I like to instead examine the first half of the year in terms of “surprising” and “disappointing” albums. The differentiation between the two isn’t as simple as good and bad or black and white. There are records on the Surprising Albums list that won’t show up at year’s end as the “Best of” anything, and by that same token, just because a record winds up on the Disappointing Albums list doesn’t mean it’s destined for the bargain bin. In order to achieve the designation of being “surprising”, a record simply needs to blow my expectations out of the water. You turn it on expecting a total crapfest and wind up with something that at the very least leaves you moderately satisfied. A strange turn of events towards the positive side of the spectrum. Opposing that, those albums designated “disappointing” earn that label by building expectations prior to its release and then failing to meet them. Everyone WANTED to like the fourth Indiana Jones movie of the 3 “Star Wars” prequels, but in the end it was letdown city. You earn a reputation for greatness and then slip up for whatever reason. So as to avoid any sort of confusion or suggestion that any list is ordered in such a way that these albums are ranked, I’ve arranged each list to be alphabetical by artist. If you like, feel free to also click onto the links provided to read my original reviews of the albums on these two lists. Today we’ll tackle my list of “5 Surprising Albums” and tomorrow will top it off with “5 Disappointing Albums”. I hope you have fun and enjoy these lists, and by all means feel free to let me know what some of your most surprising and disappointing albums from the first half of the year are in the comments section.
…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead (Original Review)
Creating an album that many deem to be “perfect” is more of a curse than it is a blessing. Yes, you’ll achieve something not many others can lay claim to, but the weight of that success will likely crush you and ultimately handicap you for the rest of your career. Such is the case with …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, a band whose 2002 album “Source Tags and Codes” remains one of the highlights from the last decade yet continues to be relatively underappreciated in this day and age. Perhaps that’s because it was followed by three albums that pushed really hard to recreate or expand upon the sound that won millions over; all of which failed miserably. Eventually dropped from their major label contract, Trail of Dead continued to push onwards via their own record label, and that along with some fiercely negative reviews caused them to step backwards and take stock of where they were at musically. They pared down to a four piece and with that came a much more stable, stripped down sound that still rocked pretty hard. The high concepts remain though, and they crafted their new album “Tao of the Dead” to be heard as two separate suites, each recorded in a different key. There may be dividers between the tracks, but the record is intended to be heard in a single sitting, and if you take it as such it serves as a reminder that this band is able to do great things when they’re not trying so damn hard. It may have taken them almost 10 years to do it, but it’s starting to seem like the ghost of perfection that has haunted the band is beginning to fade away and the boys might finally be able to reclaim some of the spotlight that was once lost. Buy it from Amazon
Cake – Showroom of Compassion (Original Review)
To call Cake “innovative” is to mislabel them. Charming though many of their songs may be, it would appear that longevity is not in their nature. Yet next year they’ll be celebrating their 20th anniversary of being together and allowing John McCrea to constantly sing-speak so many of his lyrics. In that massive amount of time, Cake has only released 6 albums. There was a 7 year gap between their last album “Pressure Chief” and their new one “Showroom of Compassion”, and with the former being such a bland effort on their part, the long wait was probably warranted. They needed the time to remember exactly who they were and why they should continue to make music. Raise your hand if you pretty much forgot that Cake even existed until you heard they had a new record coming out. Spend too much time away, and people will forget about you because there’s so many other musical options available to them. Anyways, “Showroom of Compassion” was like a big welcome back hug from an old friend that you had lost touch with a long time ago. The songs were much stronger than they had been in the last decade, and there were even small signs of sonic progression, with the band incorporating some new instruments and song structures into the fold. On 1996’s “Fashion Nugget”, Cake famously (and ironically) covered Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. With “Showroom of Compassion”, it certainly appears that they will continue to do so for a little while longer. Buy it from Amazon
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (Original Review)
Unlike Cake, Foo Fighers didn’t take a long time away from the spotlight before returning. Still, they did wait four years between their last album “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace” and this new one “Wasting Light”, which was the longest gap in the band’s 16 year history. With all their powerhouse singles though, it was never tough to keep Foo Fighters at the front of your brain, and Dave Grohl’s constant presence in playing with other bands (see: Them Crooked Vultures and Queens of the Stone Age, among others) kept you guessing about where he’d turn up next. But the Foo Fighters themselves had been suffering a serious slump as of the last 10 or so years despite their moderately successful singles output. There was the rather plain “One By One”, the double album electric-acoustic missteps of “In Your Honor”, an attempt to create something as classic as Nirvana’s “Unplugged” session via the live acoustic jaunt “Skin & Bones”, and finally a painful attempt at pandering to the lowest common demoninator courtesy of the pathetic “Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace”. In other words, it was really easy to assume “Wasting Light” would continue the downward trend the band has been on these last few records. Instead, they pulled out all the stops: Butch Vig produced the record and worked with Grohl for the first time since Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic guested on one track, and Grohl built an old school recording studio in his garage. The plan worked, and the new record marks an amazing comeback for a band that appeared to be all but lost. When Grohl screams “I never wanna die” on the album’s closing track “Walk”, he sounds like he means it: Foo Fighters haven’t sounded this alive in a long time. Buy it from Amazon
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Original Review)
Polly Jean Harvey has always been a tough nut to crack. Her early career played off the “tortured soul” card, and while she was a little more offbeat than her counterparts like Fiona Apple and Courtney Love in the early 90s, the grungy electric guitars and dark lyrics weren’t entirely uncommon. Her evolution since then has been nothing short of fascinating, and perhaps her oddest move came on 2007’s “White Chalk” in which she put down her guitar in favor of an autoharp and piano. The whole thing had a very Victorian Gothic aire to it, only pushed farther courtesy of some increasingly antiquated outfit choices. Her collaboration with John Parish via “A Man A Woman Walked By” was a small return to normalcy for her, though it’s doubtful that the word “normal” has been used much when describing any of her records. The point being that PJ Harvey is often indefinable by nature, consistent only in how she continues to switch things up and challenge herself. “Let England Shake” is another one of those moments, and this time it’s in the form of a concept record detailing the horrors of war. Harvey’s newly expanded instrumental palette serves her well here, and in a way combines some elements from her harsher electric guitar past and her much more delicate and beautiful varied approach of the more present day. In one sense, each new PJ Harvey record is a surprise, because you’re never sure what to expect as she tends to not repeat herself. What wasn’t expected was how carefully and smartly written and composed this album would be, and how after the last few albums of shots that never fully reached the heights of her past glories, here finally is an album that returns her to that force of nature state. She’s come full circle without ever really returning to where she started. Buy it from Amazon
tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l (Original Review)
Hate is a strong word, but I’m by no means hesitant to use it when referencing the first tUnE-yArDs record “BiRd-BrAiNs”. The project of Merrill Garbus, she recorded that debut album via a crappy built-in laptop microphone and mixed it with some freeware program she downloaded. It sounded exactly like that, and was primarily the reason why I couldn’t stand listening to it. I don’t expect full audio fidelity these days, particularly with the rebirth of lo-fi a couple years back, but there comes a point where the bottom of the barrel gets scraped and that was it for me. Still, for those able to look past the sonic issues with “BiRd-BrAiNs”, it was the introduction of a major new talent, a woman with a powerful voice and smart lyrics who used live shows as her true proving ground. For her second album “w h o k i l l”, Garbus actually made it into a legitimate recording studio and had some backing musicians to help her out. Free and clear of any audio quality issues, I felt that revisiting tUnE-yArDs was the wise thing to do. Turns out it was one of the best decisions I’ve made so far this year. The way the songs on “w h o k i l l” are developed and layered with so many instrumental quirks and matched next to that incredible voice is like a sonic punch to the face. It’s innovative and exciting and catchy and pretty much indescribable genre-wise. Most importantly, it’s everything that debut album was not, or rather, it exposes everything that debut album kept hidden courtesy of a shoddy microphone. Buy it from Amazon
MP3: tUnE-yArDs – Bizness
Hear ye, hear ye, hold thy tongues whilst I speak (er, write). Thee Polly Jean Harvey has just released her latest opus, the sublimely titled “Let England Shake”. Her record of duets with John Parish nonwithstanding, this marks her ninth full length and first official “solo” album since 2007’s “White Chalk”. Of course none of her records are truly solo efforts given the number of people involved behind the scenes that make up backing musicians, which includes yet again Parish, along with Mick Harvey and producer Flood. Last time around PJ Harvey pulled her biggest 180 after what seemed like a career of 180s when she set down her guitar and much of the bluesy style of older recordings and chose to deal almost exclusively with the piano and the autoharp. “White Chalk” was a record of loneliness and desperation, of a woman so far separated from almost everyone else that she’s not even sure who she is anymore. Even the vocals weren’t her normal lower register growl, opting instead for some lilting, high-pitched “experiment” that left many fans more upset than the actual absence of guitars or any mood above what most might consider to be hideously depressed. In that respect, such a record could also be called very “English” in nature – in particular if you know just how completely unhappy many of the people living there can be (please note, I said MANY and not ALL before you send me an email, happy British people). Blame it on the weather, or blame it on a rich and long history of difficulties and war. Speaking of which, was is the topic PJ Harvey is stuck on for “Let England Shake”, and if you guessed that it’s not a record of stirring battle anthems you’d be spot on.
Let’s set the scene: it’s World War I and there’s been lots of battles fought and lots of people killed. The first World War was labeled The Great War not because it was great in the positive sense, but rather great as in big and horrible. From trench warfare to brutal battlefield conditions and very close range combat, it wasn’t a pleasant time for anyone. No stranger to disturbing imagery in her lyrics, PJ Harvey uses such elements as fodder on “Let England Shake”, a very fitting reminder of the terrible things our ancestors went through that’s not recognized or discussed much these days. As dark as war can get, and that’s pretty much ideal for Harvey, what pushes this record out from its deep and somber hole is actually the composition of the songs. No, Polly Jean hasn’t picked up her guitar again full time to tear things up the way she used to, but instead these are livelier compositions crafted from a very wide variety of instruments that come across as interesting and engaging if you pay just a little less attention to the words associated with them. The opening title track is a bouncy potential single that makes great use of xylophone, autoharp, piano and percussion. The familiar strums of electric guitar emerge from hibernation on “The Last Living Rose”, though the heavy bass drum and slices of saxophone throw a delightful little wrench in what would otherwise be a pretty close to normal PJ Harvey song. Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” plays a direct influence on the lyrics of “The Words That Maketh Murder”, a rather jaunty cut about the illusions that post-war diplomacy might make everything that came before it seem justified. It’s actually the schoolyard handclaps and the way that Harvey sings with almost bemused sarcasm that sells the track as one of the album’s strongest. Similarly, late album cut “Written on the Forehead” pulls bits of Niney the Observer’s “Blood and Fire” for a more atmospheric and emotional appeal that’s actually about the current turmoil in Iraq rather than WWI like most everything else.
The liberal use of autoharp and horns for “All and Everyone” feels surprisingly fitting as a memorial to fallen soldiers, to the point where it’d work exceptionally well on the soundtrack or closing credits to an epic, award-winning war film. “On Battleship Hill” is a stunningly gorgeous acoustic track with touches of piano that has Harvey stretching her voice to almost Joanna Newsom-like high pitches as she goes into vivid detail about the trenches at the title’s location, which was part of the Gallipoli campaign. In terms of a more “classic” PJ Harvey, “Bitter Branches” begins as a more folk-driven acoustic number before the electric guitar begins to flare up as the lyrics become more venomous and angry. The touches of xylophone are nice as well towards the end of the song. It’s interesting to hear John Parish’s vocal contributions to “Let England Shake”, serving as almost a casual reminder of 2009’s collaborative record with Harvey, “A Woman a Man Walked By”. He does a fair amount of backing vocals, from “The Glorious Land” to “England” to the doubled over harmonies of “Bitter Branches” and “Hanging In the Wire”. On “The Words That Maketh Murder” he very much makes his presence known, and album closer “The Colour of the Earth” gives him his own half verse before Harvey steps in and sings along with him. The difference between “Let England Shake” and “A Woman a Man Walked By” is in the details and composition of course. Parish composed all of the 2009 record, while Harvey just had to write lyrics and sing along with him. Here, Harvey is firmly at the controls both lyrically and compositionally, with Parish playing the support guy. Compared to Harvey’s past solo-in-name records though, Parish has significantly upped his presence on the new album, and the small degree of variation proves to be one of the record’s more winning and varied elements.
Far be it from me to judge, but it seems just a little bit odd that PJ Harvey decided to make a record about World War I, a conflict that happened around 50 years before she was born. Of course nobody is questioning Titus Andronicus’ motives for making the Civil War-themed “The Monitor” last year. Anybody can be a history buff, and after you’ve written upteen records and have been around for 20 years or more, whatever it takes to spark creativity, by all means use it. It turns out that for “Let England Shake”, The Great War has left Polly Jean Harvey more revitalized and better than she has been in at least 10, if not 15 years. The way she’s been able to broaden her musical palette and try new things while still maintaining a modicum of success is nothing short of impressive, and that she continues to use those accumulated tools and styles even moreso. Additionally it’s nice to hear her compose songs that have some real life and hooks to them again, in the possibility that maybe they’ll get played someplace other than through somebody’s headphones when they’re sad and lonely. World War I may not be the most pleasant topic, but Harvey has often thrived on the darker, scarier side of things anyways. This is a different sort of angle for her, and she shines because of it. A few years ago close to the release of “White Chalk” there was buzz suggesting that PJ Harvey was just going to call it quits and stop making music. Be thankful she didn’t – “Let England Shake” makes for one of the best records in her long career.