Faronheit | A Chicago Centric Music Blog

The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Tag: the war on drugs

Pitchfork Music Festival 2018: Saturday Preview


Back in February, a new program based in the EU called Keychange, which is focused on helping women transform the music industry, announced that they had partnered with 45 different music festivals from around the globe in a pledge to help create fully gender balanced lineups by 2020. Considering how lopsided the current festival landscape is, with major festival lineups like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza averaging somewhere around 20% female, committing to a 50/50 split will certainly take some work. Unfortunately most large festivals haven’t joined Keychange’s pledge, so the numbers will likely remain skewed for the foreseeable future. The folks behind the Pitchfork Music Festival also didn’t agree to have a gender balanced lineup by 2020. Instead, they’ve done it by 2018. Pitchfork is only one of two festivals (the other is Panorama) to do it this year, and while there’s been very little attention given to this fact, it’s absolutely worth noting and celebrating. Will they choose to continue booking lineups this way in the future? I guess we’ll find out in 2019 and beyond. For now though, it’s heartening to know that Pitchfork is taking the lead in helping to create a more progressive and hospitable festival experience for persons of all genders and types. There’s a whole lot of talented women and men set to perform at Pitchfork on Saturday, and if you’re interested in learning more about them and who you should make an effort to see, read on below.

Before we get started:
Click here for a playlist of the entire Pitchfork Music Festival 2018 lineup
Click here for the Friday Preview Guide
Click here to buy tickets to the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival
Check back tomorrow for the Sunday preview guide, plus coverage of the festival all weekend long!

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#10-1]


This is it! The final post of 2014 also marks the conclusion of Listmas and specifically this Top 50 Albums of 2014 countdown. It’s been a long road with plenty of bumps and delays along the way, but we’ve finally reached the peak of this imaginary mountain. At this point I’d like to give a special thank you to everyone who read something, clicked on something or downloaded something here at Faronheit over 2014. All of the content that’s posted here is for you to discover and enjoy, and I’m grateful for anyone who visits with that intention. It hasn’t been the best year for the site content-wise, but the hope is to generate more and return to form in 2015. Typically I’d tease a bunch of new features and exciting things in development for next year, but honestly most of that stuff either gains no traction or simply falls off never to be heard from again, so let’s just stick to the mantra of more everything and go from there.

So what can I say about these Top 10 Albums of 2014? Well, like the other entries in this list, there’s plenty of variety in terms of genre and style. It goes from weird to fun to noisy to sexy to relaxing to adventurous and back again. If you’ve been following me on Instagram these last few weeks, you’ve been given access to an early preview of the eclectic Top 5, though I can assure you that #6-10 are as equally exciting and wonderful. And hey, while I wasn’t able to write a lot of album and show reviews this year, some of the ones I did write about make an appearance here. Also worth mentioning: a particular pair of artists who are members of my Class of 2014 had an exceptionally great year, helping to continue to support that program. So I’m not going to spend any extra time talking this up. Please join me past the jump for the big reveal of my absolute favorite albums of the year.

Previously: [#50-41] [#40-31] [#30-21] [#20-11]

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Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#10-1]


Here at Faronheit, nothing is ever truly off limits. Musically, I mean. The primary goal is to help you uncover the absolute best that music has to offer. Sometimes that takes things to a really obscure, underground place, and sometimes it’s the opposite and revels in the mainstream. Listen closely before passing judgment on anything, no matter if it’s a local band you’ve never heard of or a new Katy Perry song. Even an artist you actively dislike might somehow release something that catches your ear and makes you question everything you’ve ever known. For example, a few years back I heard a brand new song on the radio that to my ears sounded halfway decent. Imagine my shock upon being told it was a Hanson song. Not like a 1996 Hanson song, but a 2010 Hanson song. Do I like Hanson more now as a result? Not really, but I suppose I respect them more than I did before. So keep (or start) listening to any and all kinds of music that you can get your hands on, because even the darkest corners may contain some hidden gems. With that, I’m pleased to introduce the final installment of The Top 50 Songs of 2014. The first 40 songs were all fantastic, but what’s below is the cream of the crop. What you see and discover here could very well confound your expectations and disturb you to your very core. Or perhaps after listening to all of these songs you’ll give an understanding nod. There’s a little something for lovers of just about any music genre, but of course feel free to disagree with any or all of the choices as this is totally subjective. In case you missed them, here are links to all the other parts of the countdown:
[#50-41]
[#40-31]
[#30-21]
[#20-11]

And so without further ado, please join me past the jump for my Top 10 Songs of 2014.

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Show Review: The War on Drugs + Mark McGuire [Metro; Chicago; 3/23/14]


More so than any other day of the week, concerts on Sunday nights have a tendency to be absolutely terrible. It’s not so much the artist that’s performing, rather the crowd itself as the start of a new work week and Monday looms over us like the Sword of Damocles. Nobody wants to drag themselves out to a show at 9 p.m. on a Sunday, knowing full well they’ll wind up back home well after midnight and likely sleep deprived the next day. Mondays are already bad enough. Yet like any other night of the week, shows still happen and people still go to them, however begrudgingly. And so it was that more than a thousand people packed into the legendary Metro on Sunday night for a sold out show with The War on Drugs and Mark McGuire. They may not have been the most excited or enthusiastic bunch walking in (it’s just an observation and not a criticism), but walking out was a completely different story. The entire evening was a revelation, in the greatest and most unexpected ways.

I’ve spent the better part of the last month and a half immersed in Mark McGuire’s latest album Along the Way, which is just one release of many that he’s been involved with these last few years. It is his first solo effort since officially splitting with his experimental rock band Emeralds last year, and displays an impressive leap in style and composition that he’s never attempted previously. His older stuff played around with various guitars and effects pedals without much else thrown in. Between the electronic samples, drum machines, synths, piano and mandolins, among others, McGuire suddenly sounds like he’s got an army backing him up. If you thought recreating all that in a live setting would require a few additional band members, you’d be wrong. He came out on stage by himself, and thanks to intricate looping techniques, pedals and other triggers, the whole thing wound up being a pretty impressive display of one man’s talents. It yielded a surprise or two along the way as well, in particular a fair number of songs I thought made use of synths and keyboards were actually done by piling effects onto his guitar. I can’t recall the last time my ears were fooled in such a way. And to some degree it makes his material even better than before, because there’s a greater complexity in how it all comes together. Watching it happen before your very eyes is a real selling point too. I’ve been to so many shows where a truly solo artist does simple recreations of songs that are part of his or her catalog and it’s so normal you could call it boring. With a little bit of flair and a high wire risk level though, it’s the exact opposite. You watch intently as new passages get added to old songs, and subconsciously wonder what might happen if something went wrong. Thankfully McGuire is that sort of risk-taking artist, and it made for a remarkably compelling set.

Buy Along the Way from Amazon


The War on Drugs set up and soundchecked all their own equipment. That says something about a band, particularly when they’ve reached a certain level of popularity where they can hire somebody to do that job for them. Perhaps it’s a DIY attitude or a high degree of perfectionism, but whatever the reason, they should keep it up because they really have never sounded better. All the levels were perfect and it was one of the best mixed shows I’ve heard in a long time. Beyond sonic perfection, the band is also filled with extremely talented musicians who know that performing live is about more than just faithfully recreating what you hear on record. The War on Drugs don’t have the most energetic catalog in the world, and translating that into a show that doesn’t put you to sleep could be considered quite the challenge. In fact, at one point a handful of songs into the set, someone in the crowd yelled at the band to “pick up the pace a little bit,” and they responded by launching into their biggest hit and highest energy songs to date, “Red Eyes.” Sure, things could feel a little slow and lackadaisical at times, but they were never boring or bland for a single second.

One of the ways I judge any live show is by an unofficial measuring index known as the “goose bump factor.” If I get goose bumps, or a little bit of tingling down my spine at any point during a set, that’s a very positive sign that a band is doing something right. If it happens multiple times, there’s something truly special and maybe even unforgettable about the performance. There were several goose bump moments during The War on Drugs’ set, particularly during most of the songs off their excellent new record Lost in the Dream. In some cases, as with “Under the Pressure” and “Eyes to the Wind,” the live versions actually somehow sounded even better than they do on the album. The band only skipped one track from that record, and mixed in a handful of tracks from 2011’s Slave Ambient, plus covers of songs from Bill Fay and John Lennon. The covers might have been the weakest moments in the set, partly because the original versions are considered classics on their own right, and partly because they didn’t fit in quite so seamlessly with everything else. Yet none of it was bad or even mediocre. This band is far too talented to let that happen.

As the show started to reach the 90 minute mark, frontman Adam Granduciel asked the crowd for permission to skip the traditional encore so they could just keep playing. “We could say good night, leave the stage for two minutes while everybody cheered, and then return to say we have a few more songs to play for you,” he said, “or we could just not do that and play those songs anyways.” So they played onward, finally wrapping things up after close to two hours. A small portion of the crowd left before then, likely because the show had stretched past midnight and work or school was coming early the next morning. Those who stayed for the full experience walked out in very good spirits (far better than going in, from what I could tell), and I heard nothing but praise about the show. Indeed, it was pretty incredible. Dare I say one of the best concert experiences I’ve had in quite awhile. And just like that, I can’t wait for The War on Drugs to come back so we can do it all over again.

Set List
In Reverse
Under the Pressure
I Was There
Eyes to the Wind
Suffering
Red Eyes
I Hear You Calling (Bill Fay cover)
Burning
Baby Missiles
Lost In The Dream
Mind Games (John Lennon cover)
An Ocean In Between The Waves
Disappearing
Come to the City
Brothers
Black Water Falls

Buy Lost in the Dream from Amazon

Album Review: The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient [Secretly Canadian]


My policy towards music tends to fly by the motto of “listen first, ask questions later”. Before all the pitches and “sounds like” comparisons reach my eyes, my ears almost always get the first taste and judge for themselves. It has certainly made for some interesting musical moments, but one of the more twisted pleasures I get out of blind listening is when an artist or band finds a way to genuinely surprise me. I’ve heard The War on Drugs before, but not since giving a cursory listen to their 2008 label debut “Wagonwheel Blues”. They’ve been pulling in a fair amount of hype for their sophmore effort “Slave Ambient” though, so having completely forgotten why I didn’t pay them more attention the first time around, I jumped into the record without a second thought or a second of research.

Track 2 on “Slave Ambient” is “Brothers”. My memory wiped of what this band is all about and who their members are, my immediate thought was that the track sounded exactly like Kurt Vile. From the acoustic guitars through the vocals, the song very much seemed like a missing track off Vile’s latest record “Smoke Ring For My Halo”. It was after that first time through the record that I scanned the text surrounding the band, only to discover that Vile was in fact a founding member of The War on Drugs, leaving to pursue his solo career back in 2008. In essence then, he was one of the people that helped shape the band’s sound in the early days, and his presence is still felt even today. It doesn’t help that frontman Adam Granduciel sounds a bit like Vile too. Considering the praise Vile has been getting these last couple years for his music, the similarities might not be a bad thing.

Despite resembling Kurt Vile on a couple tracks, that’s not nearly the full scope of The War on Drugs’ sound. Unlike Vile’s often hushed and intimate melodies, The War on Drugs will occasionally break out a propulsive, stadium-sized song that bears closer cousins to Arcade Fire than anything else. Grandiosity comes in the form of “Your Love Is Calling My Name”, centerpiece “Come to the City” and “Baby Missiles”. Not only are these tracks massive in scope, but they’re quite catchy too. Where much of the record merely drifts in slow-moving ambience (as the title suggests), those more expansive bits help to break free of what might otherwise be complacent monotony. Yet just because a song has a brisk pace and a widescreen melody doesn’t automatically make it great or better than some of the quieter stuff. The band shows so much restraint across the entirety of “Slave Ambient” that they aren’t quite able to break free of that even when they do go big. That is to say they could have and probably should have tried to go even bigger. As a result most of the more thrilling moments on the album are offset with this air of disappointment at the thought of what might have been.

The slower, more drifting songs typically work well, particularly in establishing an overall mood. A couple instrumentals in the form of the brief “Come For It” and “Original Slave” only add to the drifting elements, though it is questionable as to whether they’re needed at all. Ultimately when “Slave Ambient” finishes, you’re left with this general ambivalence towards it. This isn’t a record that’s difficult to like, but it’s also somewhat easy to forget. You can let yourself get lost in the ether and remain blissfully unaware of when one song ends and another begins. Outside of the more expansive and brass ring-reaching moments, there’s not a ton to grab and hold your attention. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it serves the experience. Unless you’ve got your highlights clearly marked though, don’t start this record unless you plan to finish it. Tentpole songs aside, keeping everything bunched together as one 45 minute piece will help you to get the most out of it and provide you with a much greater appreciation for the band as a whole. Kurt Vile or no Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs are on the up-and-up. They may not strike the emotional highs that Vile has achieved on his last record, but they’re more ambitious when it comes to their sound so it kind of balances out. Still, this band has some improving left to do. Unlike their last album though, I think I’ll remember “Slave Ambient”, so at least next time I won’t have to re-educate myself on these guys for a third time.

The War on Drugs – Come to the City
The War on Drugs – Baby Missiles

Buy “Slave Ambient” from Amazon

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