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100 Songs from Half of ’21

We’ve once again reached the halfway point of another year, and as such it creates a perfect opportunity to reflect on the past six months just to check in and see how things are going so far. You don’t need another recap of pandemic fatigue, vaccine distribution, and the “return to normalcy” while our democratic institutions remain in constant peril. That’s not what this site is about. Everyone is stressed out enough already, so let’s take a moment to remember the good things, like music. Oh hey, remember music? It’s that thing you can play to soundtrack your life and enhance your emotional state. The right song can turn your entire day around, for better or worse. A fond memory can be triggered by a song, or an uptempo beat can somehow make a sunny day that much brighter. Great stuff, right?

After the last 15 or so months that we’ve had, your relationship with music may have changed. Perhaps staying home without constant obligations inspired you to revisit some favorite albums or go digging for something new to expand your horizons. Then again, maybe like some other activities, listening to music just doesn’t ignite the same spark within you it once did. I absolutely get that. Live music in particular has been a constant source of joy in my life, and not attending a single concert in a year and a half left a hole no livestream could ever fill. I’m excited to get back to shows and festivals later this summer, and to share some of those experiences with you here on this site. Part of me also worries it won’t be the same or at least inflame my passions as easily as it used to.

Thankfully, the well of freshly recorded songs and albums has yet to run dry. Things weren’t looking so great for a couple of months this past spring though, as it appears a number of high profile artists chose to hold off on announcing new records until it became clear the world was reopening again and they could go out on tour. Don’t get me wrong there was still plenty of good stuff being released, you just needed to dig a little deeper some weeks to find it. When I began composing this mid-year playlist, my concern was over finding enough quality tracks to make it a worthwhile endeavor. Were there 50-100 songs from the past six months that I truly loved? I wasn’t sure, and it took a few weeks of searching through my library and checking the calendar for release dates before the answer became clear.

Below you’ll find 100 songs (6.5 hours of music) that I genuinely love from the first half of 2021, in both embedded Spotify and linked YouTube formats. They are very much all over the place in terms of genre, mood, tempo, and any other qualifier you may consider. Some great representation from Chicago’s local music scene in the mix too. As always, you’re unlikely to agree with all of my choices. I’d also be extremely surprised (and impressed) if you’ve heard all of these songs before seeing them on this playlist! For every Lorde or Lil Nas X there’s an Alicia Walter or Geese. My hope is that you’ll press play on something completely foreign to you and fall in love with it. Explore a bit! Hit shuffle and see where it takes you! Or find an artist/song you already know and like, then listen to the one in order before and after it. Everything is organized by genre/vibe and purposely not ranked, so please scroll down and give those later tracks some spins too. Enjoy and Happy Summer!

The Chicago 20 From ’20


The Chicago music scene had a very good year, despite everything that happened in the world (gestures broadly at the flaming dumpster that’s been 2020). Seriously, I’m incredibly thankful for the many, many artists that work hard and make their city proud by releasing wonderful music that inspires and radiates with feeling. While many of these releases came out or were recorded pre-pandemic with an obvious eye on touring to support them, the tragedy of all that getting cancelled was lessened primarily because the albums themselves were so wonderful. It’s been a pleasure to live with these songs and absorb them in ways we otherwise might not have been able to had the hustle and bustle of a normal year gotten in the way. In lieu of concerts and events and social engagements, I got to press play on that Dehd record for the tenth time or drop the needle on Ohmme’s latest until the groove started to crackle a bit due to frequent wear and tear.

As this is a Chicago-based site, I felt it was particularly important to give some additional representation to some of the local artists and bands that helped make my year much more bearable. Many of them are scraping by and doing their best given the circumstances, and they could use your support! Buy some vinyl, downloads, and/or some merch if you can afford it – especially on Bandcamp Fridays (the 1st Friday of every month) when the site waives their cut of fees so more money goes back to the artists. You can also stream their music, which is helpful but doesn’t pay nearly as much. Some also have Patreon pages and accept direct donations on Venmo or CashApp, so look into that too if you’re interested. Most of that information can be found on their social media pages.

When it comes to this list, it doesn’t feel right to assign anybody numbers or claim that some records are better than others. I’d be doing a disservice to the community that is the Chicago music scene by ranking and encouraging competition. My hope is that you’ll check out all of these albums, because each one is worth your time and consideration. They cover almost every conceivable genre, and often play with your expectations by taking some wildly fun detours. So here are my 20 favorite LPs released by Chicago artists in 2020. Can’t wait to hear each one performed live at some of our legendary local venues once it’s safe to do so again!

Six Times Twenty: 120 Great Songs From The First Half Of 2020


If you’re reading this, I’d like to congratulate you on surviving the first half of 2020. To say the past six months have been challenging would be putting it mildly. Pandemics and protests are only the start of our troubles. And even though most of us have been spending a whole lot of time at home, we could still use a break from everything. While I can’t sit here and tell you that the world will somehow magically get better and there’s light at the end of this extremely dark tunnel, my hope still remains intact that life will improve sooner rather than later.

Lollapalooza 2019: 20 Artists You Shouldn’t Miss

And we back, and we back, and we back…for yet another year of Lollapalooza. I haven’t missed a single day of the festival since it settled in Chicago back in 2005, so 2019 will mark my 15th year in a row of this madness in Grant Park. No, I’m not sure when I’ll finally decide to scale back and start skipping days or the festival entirely. Yes, I’ve slowly become older than most of the people who attend Lollapalooza these days. But the combination of age and experience leads to wisdom, which is something I’m happy to share with anyone planning to spend time at the festival this upcoming week/weekend.

The most basic advice I can give is to know your limits and practice rigorous self-care whether you’re in Grant Park for one day or all four. Drink lots of water (more than you want/need to), wear sunscreen and bug spray, and don’t be afraid to find a spot and sit down for a bit. The number of people I see collapse due to exhaustion, dehydration, or too much alcohol/drugs every year just makes me shake my head. Wear comfortable shoes (NOT flip flops). Avoid bringing a bag or purse if you can, because there are separate security lines at the entrance for bags vs. no bags and I’ll give you one guess as to which one moves at least 3x faster than the other. If you absolutely have to bring a bag, make sure you’re aware of the Allowed and Prohibited Items list before packing it. Also be very mindful of the bag’s size, shape, and number of pockets because there are restrictions on those things too. These might seem like a lot of things to remember, but the good news is that most of them are common sense anyway. Just be smart about it, and you should be fine.

But what about the music? Navigating sets from 180+ artists over four days isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, and the best advice I can give you for scheduling is to map out your day in advance and avoid going from one end of the park to the other too often. The walk end-to-end through Grant Park takes about 15 minutes wading through clusters of people, and you’ll exhaust yourself quickly by doing it more than 2-3 times per day. If you’re facing a difficult time slot conflict between two or more artists, you’d be best off just picking the one at the stage closest to where you are at that very moment. Simple enough! Not familiar with enough artists to fill your schedule for the day? Let me try to help with a list of five performances you shouldn’t miss on each day of the festival. Here we go:

Pitchfork Music Festival 2019: Friday Recap

The first day of the 2019 Pitchfork Music Festival, all anybody could seemingly talk about was the heat. Chicago has been placed under an “Excessive Heat Warning” through Saturday evening, with temperatures reaching into the mid-90s though the “real feel” was just a touch over 100 degrees. So yes, it was hot. Everybody was sweating. Not much could be done about it, though some people took it upon themselves to find ways to keep cool. Fans, both paper and mini portable electric ones, were being used by many. Others brought mist bottles. Some simply felt they were wearing too much, and stripped down to the barest of essentials without resorting to outright nudity. The festival organizers were kind enough to offer up as much free water as you could drink, complete with giant ice tubs packed with bottled water free of charge, as well as water fountains in multiple areas of Union Park. At one point I spotted two large buckets filled with ice and a sign on them that simply said “DUNK”. A few brave souls just went right ahead and plunged their whole heads into them. There were also a few cooling buses available so people could have a seat in some air conditioning if they really needed it. Every time I walked past them they looked to be about half full.

One of the saving graces of the day was the Blue stage in general, because it’s a tree-heavy area with plenty of shade. Lots of people took it upon themselves to lay out blankets and just hang out there for much of the day. More than a few were napping somewhat comfortably. While I did see a couple of medical personnel carting somebody away in an ambulance at one point in the late afternoon, the medical tent itself appeared to be pretty quiet for most of the day. I didn’t spot a single person who had collapsed from the heat, and that’s kind of a regular thing that happens at just about every music festival no matter the temperature. People were smart and took care of themselves and others. It’s one of the things I love most about the Pitchfork Music Festival – everyone is super relaxed and friendly and wants to make sure you’re doing okay. We all look out for one another. Hopefully that’s the case again for Day 2 which is expected to be just as hot. But weather and cooling techniques aside, this is a MUSIC festival, and there are a bunch of performances to talk about. So let’s jump right in.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2019: Sunday Preview

Now feels like a good time to cover some of the extra “things to do” at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival that don’t revolve around standing in front of a stage and watching an artist play their songs. Obviously there are food and drink tents where you can get all kinds of different delicious things. If you’re a fan of limited edition craft beer, you might want to check out the Goose Island booth, where they’ll be offering Wit Awake, a collaboration with the band Parquet Courts that will be sold exclusively at the fest. All proceeds from those beer sales will go to the Freedom for Immigrants charity. Other spots you may want to explore in Union Park include the Flatstock poster fair, where artists showcase and sell various concert posters they’ve designed. There’s the CHIRP Record Fair, where you can find a whole lot of limited edition LPs for sale. If you’re bringing young children under 10 with you there’s also a Kids Zone featuring some fun distractions. And new for this year, Pitchfork Radio will be broadcasting live from the festival grounds. You’ll be able to watch some special live performances, DJ sets and interviews with artists on the lineup, and a few other things. Check out the full programming schedule and drop by if you’re looking for a break from hanging out at the stages. Oh! One last thing. All weekend at the Blue stage in between sets there will be live poetry readings from the Young Chicago Authors Louder Than A Bomb Poets. I love a good poem, so that should be lovely. So there you go. There are plenty of distractions to be found at Pitchfork if you’re looking for them. And I’m not even including some of the clothing vendors, environmental activist booths, and sponsored free giveaways of food and merch. It all adds up to one unforgettable weekend. I hope you’ll be there! Here’s the link to buy tickets if you still need to do so. The Sunday lineup this year looks particularly special, and I’m excited to see and hear how it all plays out. Check out the hour-by-hour guide below, once again noting that any starred (**) artists are the ones I’m recommending most. In case you missed them, here are links to the preview guides for the other days as well:

Lineup Playlist
Friday Preview Guide
Saturday Preview Guide

Pitchfork Music Festival 2019: Saturday Preview

If the weather forecast is to be believed, this could very well be one of the hottest Pitchfork Music Festivals ever. 97 degrees on Friday. 92 degrees on Saturday. 83 degrees on Sunday. When you factor in the heat index, two of the three days are probably going to feel like 100+ degrees in Union Park. Self care is so incredibly important, especially at a music festival where you’re outside in the heat all day! Dress for the weather. Always keep water close at hand, and drink as much of it as humanly possible. As security or medial personnel for water if you need it, and they will get it for you. Stay in the shade if you can. Whatever it’s going to take so you don’t wind up dehydrated or passed out. Yes, it’s fun to drink some alcohol and maybe even take a drug or two to make your festival experience more enjoyable, but don’t do it at the expense of your own health! Maybe wait until after the sun goes down and the temperature cools off a few degrees before having a beer? Just a thought. Okay, that was your moment of parental advice in this preview guide. Now let’s take an hour-by-hour look at which artists will be performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival on Saturday. As always, my personal picks will be starred (**), so keep an eye out for those. Here are links to other Pitchfork Fest 2019 guides in case you need them:

Lineup Playlist
Friday Preview Guide
Sunday Preview Guide

Pitchfork Music Festival 2019: Friday Preview

Now that you’ve heard a couple of songs from every artist performing at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, let’s get down to brass tax. If you’re planning to spend some time in Union Park this weekend enjoying some live music, who should you see? Sure, you probably purchased a ticket because some of your favorites are playing, but realistically speaking you might not have enough information to know the best choices for every single hour of the schedule. Don’t worry, let this preview guide help! Here’s a more detailed breakdown of every artist performing at Pitchfork Fest this Friday, along with their set times and stage location (red, green, and blue). My personal recommendations are starred (**). Check back later this week for preview guides detailing the schedules and lineups for Saturday and Sunday!

Saturday Preview Guide
Sunday Preview Guide

Pitchfork Music Festival 2019: The Lineup Playlist

Welcome to the start of another Pitchfork Music Festival Week here at Faronheit! There’s so much to cover over the next seven days, but the first step involves familiarizing yourself with the lineup. The diverse collection of talent that takes the stage in Chicago’s Union Park every July remains unparalleled, as the festival provides a breeding ground for tomorrow’s superstars while simultaneously paying respects to legends. Artists such as Bon Iver, The National, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper all performed at Pitchfork before they became household names. But you also get seasoned pros like Public Enemy, Yoko Ono, The Jesus Lizard, Guided By Voices, Pavement, A Tribe Called Quest, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Bjork, and George Clinton with Parliament Funkadelic showing up to guide everyone through their classic catalogs.

The 2019 edition of the Pitchfork Music Festival maintains a strong grasp on that dynamic, celebrating the decades of music we’ve gotten from The Isley Brothers, Mavis Staples, Belle & Sebastian, Neneh Cherry, and Stereolab while also providing an introduction to local and international names like Clairo, Black Midi, Tirzah, Lala Lala, and MIKE. It may interest you to know that the lineup is gender balanced, and makes a particular point to include a number of Chicago-based artists. If you’re planning to attend the festival this weekend but haven’t yet studied up on everyone that will be performing, what are you waiting for?

To help on your journey of discovery, I’ve assembled a playlist that you’re welcome to explore at your own discretion. The Spotify version embedded below features a pair of songs from every artist on this year’s lineup, with the exception of the Great Black Music Ensemble. They are sorted in the order they’re scheduled to perform, starting with early Friday afternoon and ending with Sunday night. As an alternate option, since not everyone has Spotify or wants to dig through an 80+ song playlist, you can also scroll through the lineup in alphabetical order and click on links to listen to individual songs from artists on YouTube. Hopefully that will satisfy just about everyone. So explore a bit. Find something new that inspires or motivates you. Then prepare to make some tough decisions when planning out your festival weekend. Speaking of which, please continue to check the site over the coming days for preview guides and advice on artists you shouldn’t miss at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival! If you still need tickets, here’s where you can buy them. Prices increase on Tuesday 7/16, so you may want to move quickly to save a few bucks.

Friday Preview Guide
Saturday Preview Guide
Sunday Preview Guide

Show Review: BANKS / Anna Lunoe / SAMOHT [House of Vans; Chicago; 7/11/19]


As summer in Chicago (finally) starts to fully kick in, the Vans House Parties are just getting warmed up. The last couple of months have seen shows curated by everyone from Vince Staples to The Breeders to Julien Baker, with more on the way from Taking Back Sunday, Anderson .Paak, The Rapture, and Converge. Yeah, it’s a pretty stacked lineup. It all happens at the House of Vans Chicago location in the West Loop, and every show is 100% FREE based on capacity and advance RSVP.

Thursday night’s House of Vans show was headlined and curated by alt-R&B artist BANKS, who also happened to be celebrating the release of her new album |||. It marked her first proper show in close to two years, and she used that gap to recharge, write/record new songs, and compose a book of poetry with illustrations (that’s titled Generations of Women from the Moon and will be out soon). Some of her poetry and artwork was on display as part of a special installation at the venue, which was a nice addition (and complement) to the music itself.

The Wax Trax! Experience [House of Vans; Chicago; 4/13/19]


All of us have two families in our lives: the ones we’re born into, and the ones we choose. The strength of each is determined largely by upbringing and instinct, though coming from a loving household doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always have loving friends, and vice versa. What we’re all ultimately looking for in others is a shared connection, be it through blood, interests, or experiences.

Music often functions as one of life’s great connectors, because it’s easy to bond over a song based on the feelings it evokes when listening to it. Technology has made it easier than ever to not only find and share new music, but interact and make new friends with people from around the globe who share your passion. That wasn’t possible thirty years ago, yet music fans still found one another thanks in large part to places like concert venues and record stores.

Show Review: Avey Tare [Co-Prosperity Sphere; Chicago; 4/6/19]


One of the things I admire most about Avey Tare (Dave Portner) is his lack of complacency. At no point in his solo work or as a member of Animal Collective has he adhered to expectation or perceived boundaries, and that wild card nature has often resulted in brilliance (with the occasional misstep). You’re never quite sure where he’ll evolve to next, but can rest assured it will never be boring.

Tuned In: Jen Kirkman

Tuned In is a feature in which special guests from the world of pop culture share a playlist of songs based on a topic or theme of their choice.

Jen Kirkman is not only one of my favorite comedians, but also one of my favorite people. If for some reason you’re not familiar with her stand-up, she’s got two fantastic and hilarious specials available on Netflix called Just Keep Livin’? and I’m Gonna Die Alone (And I Feel Fine). You can also find them on your favorite audio streaming or download service (Spotify, Amazon, Apple) if that’s your preference. Let those serve as an introduction to her unique perspective and a way to inject some much-needed laughter into your life.

In addition to consistently crafting new stand-up material and touring around it, Jen Kirkman has written two very funny and very smart books that made the NY Times bestseller list, has a weekly podcast talking about her life and things happening in the world, spends time writing for the Golden Globe and Emmy-winning Amazon show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and maintains a strong, bullshit-free social media presence. She’s so hard-working and multi-talented there are definitely other things I’m forgetting too (talk show appearances, Drunk History segments, etc.), so the best way to keep track of everything is by joining her email newsletter.

There’s also Kirkman’s taste in music, which is as delightful and whip-smart as her comedy. She’s gotten downright poetic in the past when talking about the brilliance of David Bowie, Prince, and Morrissey, among others, and has often cited Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” as her go-to karaoke song. It’s no surprise then that she puts a tremendous amount of care into crafting a pre-show playlist for her tour dates. Here are ten fantastic songs she’s selected that help put her in the right frame of mind before a show. You just might hear some of these before her set at Thalia Hall on Thursday, January 17th. It promises to be a great night kicking off her extensive tour for 2019 with plenty of laughs and brand new material. Plus, she’ll be signing books after. Buy tickets in advance now, because there’s a very good chance this show will sell out!

Jen Kirkman
Thursday, January 17th at Thalia Hall (1807 S. Allport St.)
8PM / $26 / 17+
Buy Tickets

Show Review: Preoccupations + Protomartyr [Thalia Hall; Chicago; 12/6/18]


“I’m learning to like Chicago,” Protomartyr singer Joe Casey said toward the end of the band’s set at Thalia Hall on Thursday night. Protomartyr hail from Detroit, which has a storied Midwestern rivalry with Chicago, so the minor bit of animus is understandable. He also may have been kidding, but his detached demeanor on stage made it difficult to tell. That’s by design of course, befitting a singer and band that crafts songs so relentless and emotionally intense they often seem on the verge of total collapse. You can’t allow your feelings to become too invested when performing songs about the ails of the world, lest they hold you in a masochistic pit of despair.

Show Review: Car Seat Headrest [Riviera Theatre; Chicago; 9/7/18]


There’s something different about Will Toledo these days. It’s not so much a look as it is a feeling. He seems freer, happier, and more energized on stage than he ever has before – or at least compared to the couple of other times I’ve seen Car Seat Headrest perform. And while there are any number of reasons why this might be the case, my sneaking suspicion has to do with Naked Giants. Specifically, their presence as openers and additional members of Car Seat Headrest has shifted dynamics in a very exciting direction.

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