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The Best Songs of 2017: Honorable Mention

Of the thousands of songs I heard this past year, narrowing a list down to my favorite 50 was exceptionally tough. There was plenty of heartbreak and disappointment upon the realization that some great songs were being left off of that final list. So in the spirit of giving attention to even more great music, please take these extra 25 tracks and give them a listen if you aren’t familiar with them already. They’re listed in alphabetical order so as to not prioritize any one over another. The only rules are that the tracks must have been part of a 2017 album, soundtrack, or single release. While you can click on the play button below any song title to hear it streaming (via YouTube), there’s also a Spotify playlist embedded at the very bottom of this post should you prefer to listen that way. Cool? Cool. And make sure to keep an eye out for my Top 50 Songs of 2017, which will immediately follow this post.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2015: Saturday in Photos

Join me after the jump for a collection of photos that I took on Day 2 (Saturday) of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. Photos are arranged by set time. They are also available in higher resolution on Facebook. Check out my full recap of the day, as well as all the rest of the coverage, by going here.

Pitchfork Music Festival 2015: Saturday Recap

What’s a summer music festival in Chicago without a little rain? Or a lot of rain? This year marked the first time in its 10 year history that Pitchfork was forced to evacuate the grounds due to severe weather. A similar incident happened at Lollapalooza a couple years back. Unlike that event however, organizers waited until seemingly the last minute before pulling the plug. That’s not intended to say that they did anything wrong, but rather tried as hard as they could to keep things going until they simply couldn’t anymore due to safety concerns. They made the announcement to please exit the park, and then less than two minutes later a massive, bone-soaking rain poured down complete with a lightning show for the ages. People gasped at the sky lit up while also running with panic due to the extremely intense downpour. Of course minutes after evacuating the rain stopped and about 30 minutes later Union Park reopened and the day continued. The grounds were a bit muddy in spots for the rest of the day, as one might expect, but overall the schedule wasn’t disrupted much and the situation was handled with relative professionalism. But what about the music? Read on past the jump, and I’ll share those details with you, dear reader!

Pitchfork Music Festival 2015: Saturday Preview Guide

Saturday was the first day of this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival to sell out. When you take a close look at the daily lineups, it makes perfect sense as to why. While the entire thing is pretty stacked, Saturday in particular looks extra heavy on quality. This is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, you get to see all this great music in one day, meaning if you don’t have a ticket for the entire weekend it seems like the best deal for your time and money. On the other hand, you can’t see everything, leading to a nasty pile-up of conflicts that can be problematic. If you’re concerned about that, and you should be, allow me to offer some help and guidance to make the most of your Saturday at Pitchfork. Join me after the jump for the hour-by-hour breakdown of who’s playing when, complete with recommendations on what you can’t/shouldn’t miss.

If you missed my previous Pitchfork Music Festival 2015 posts, go here to hear/see/download songs from every artist on this year’s lineup. If you’ll be at Union Park on Friday, you may want to look over my preview guide for that day by going here.

Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Albums of the Year [#50-41]

This is the big one. Well to be more accurate, this is the START of the big one. The Top 50 Albums countdown is the cornerstone of Listmas every year, and the 2014 version is looking pretty stellar. Before we begin, let me quickly go over the basic ground rules to help explain the rankings and how records qualified for this list. Any full length record released in the United States over the course of the 2014 calendar year was eligible for inclusion. EPs are not eligible (sorry Royksopp & Robyn), nor are soundtracks (sorry Mica Levi and the Under the Skin OST), mixtapes and “Various Artists” song collections. It’s equal parts funny and sad to me that at the start of the 2013 Top 50 Albums countdown, I mentioned that the site had fallen off the wagon in terms of album reviews for that year, but promised that “in 2014, things are going to be different!” They actually were different in that the total number of album reviews declined yet again. There’s a myriad of excuses I can claim contributed to that problem, including some serious bouts with writer’s block and having a lot more general life responsibilities on my plate that snatched away the free time I’d normally spend writing. Ultimately though, I didn’t push myself hard enough to get things written and published in a timely fashion. I’ve actually got a handful of unfinished album reviews from across the year that I kept delaying until they were forgotten about. They’re all way past expiration date now, but maybe I’ll use pieces of those writings in the short capsules for each record on this list. When you really think about it, the Top 50 Albums countdown is pretty much just a mini-review marathon anyway. Almost all of these you’ll be seeing and reading about for the very first time on the site, so enjoy the surprise and suspense of what might be on the way this week. Today I’m happy to kick things off with the very first of five installments. Take a hop, skip and the jump to check out my Top 50 Albums of 2014: #50-41!

Listmas 2014: The Top 50 Songs of the Year [#20-11]

Electronica. Indie pop. Synth pop. Experimental pop. Punk rock. Psych rock. Indie rock. R&B. You can find all of these genres and more in this next installment of Faronheit’s Top 50 Songs of 2014! Thus far, we’ve journeyed through three previous sets of 10 songs, and should you have missed them, why all you have to do is click these individual links to be taken there instantly: [#50-41] [#40-31] [#30-21]

Of course if you’d like to see all of the Top 50 Songs posts with a single click, simply choose this link. We’ve got two more rounds left, including this one right here, so follow me even further down the rabbit hole as digging continues toward the Top 10 Songs of the year. For the moment, click past the jump for #20-11!

Album Review: Kathryn Calder – Are You My Mother? [File Under: Music]

You probably know Kathryn Calder best as a utility player in The New Pornographers. If you were unaware she was a member of The New Pornographers, you’d be forgiven considering that A.C. Newman, Dan Bejar and Neko Case are the three principal singers and songwriters for the band. As has happened often in the past, Neko Case will often take some time away from the band in order to work on solo material and tour around that. In the situations where Case takes a break, it’s Kathryn Calder that steps into her place when female vocal parts are required. Otherwise, you can find her behind the keyboards doing what she can to be a team player. Prior to that, Calder also was a key member of Canadian indie pop band Immaculate Machine. She’s ambitious beyond the bands she’s been a part of though, and during a particularly tough time in her life, she got together with producer Colin Stewart to record her debut solo album “Are You My Mother?” which is out this week.

The recording process for “Are You My Mother?” started in 2007 when Calder returned home to Victoria, BC Canada during a bit of a break from touring with The New Pornographers. Her mother was terminally ill with ALS, and she wanted to have all the comforts of home and be able to help out, so she created a makeshift recording studio with Colin in her living room. A big reason why she wanted to make the record was because her mom was constantly telling her she should, and she had plenty of demos just sitting around collecting dust. The goal was to have the album completed so her mom could hear it before she died, and though she was around for the recording process, everything was finally finished before she passed away in June of 2009. The title “Are You My Mother?” is less a reference to her own mom, but a children’s book by the same name that she (Kathryn) happens to love. And while some of the sadder songs on the album might also seem autobiographical or at least written in response to such an emotional time in her life, Calder has been careful to state that’s not really the case.

What “Are You My Mother?” generally sounds like is about what you’d expect from a talented female singer-songwriter these days. Calder plays virtually every instrument on the album, and a fair number of the songs are in the upbeat and poppy range, which is thte sort of kick in the pants this record needed. Piano and acoustic guitar seem to be her main instruments of choice, and there are splashes of tambourine and other rhythmic devices in play as well. Much of the percussion on the album was created with found objects, which helps to explain why one song sounds like light tapping on a file cabinet and another abuses a tissue box. Front and center though is Calder’s voice, which is strong and emotionally resonant, though not quite on a powerhouse-type level that you’d get from her New Pornographers bandmate Neko Case, who coincidentally also contributes backing vocals to a couple songs.

When she’s on the money, Kathryn Calder shines above many other women making similar-sounding music. Opening track “Slip Away” is beautifully measured out in doses of quieter and louder moments when guitars come in and bring a lush vibe to the chorus. “Castor and Pollux” is perhaps the most exciting song on the album, and it features live drums and the soaring electric guitar chorus with the line “Blown wide open” is remarkably catchy. Piano and bass permeate “Arrow” nicely, and there are some woodwinds that come in after the first verse that create added depth to a gorgeous melody. The chipper “If You Only Knew” does well for itself thanks to handclaps and shouted backing vocals that you really can’t help but smile at. “A Day Long Past It’s Prime” has a fuzzy electric guitar and a toe-tapping pace that’s fun but not the most memorable song on the record. That’s actually the album’s biggest problem – that there aren’t enough hooks to keep the songs banging around in your head until you listen to them again. The quiet acoustic or piano ballads have their place over about half the record, but the more vibrant and quickly paced songs need that extra push to stay with you.

Kathryn Calder ultimately sounds her best in two situations: the emotionally stripped and sparse ballad, and the busier, loud pop song. “Are You My Mother?” features a couple of each, and they hold your attention hostage for their duration and even a little bit beyond that. The other stuff just feels transitional. Of course transition is a big theme this album brings out, primarily the issue of putting away childish things and moving towards becoming a mature adult. We still have those fond memories of childhood with our parents and those books we liked so much we’d ask to have them read to us over and over again, but that’s exactly what they need to remain – fond memories. We can’t go back there, and instead of letting that weigh on us we need to move on. Depressing as it may seem, the love of our friends and family continue to tie us with our youth no matter how old we get. Of course that’s probably reading too much into it, so let’s just settle on the idea that Kathryn Calder’s solo debut is a heartfelt delight on multiple emotional scales, and it serves as proof she’s a strong talent worth watching in the years to come.

Kathryn Calder – Slip Away
Kathryn Calder – Arrow  

Buy “Are You My Mother?” from Amazon

Album Review: The New Pornographers – Together [Matador]

As a genre of music, indie pop is so immediately likeable that if you can’t find a band to love that plays this style of music, chances are there’s something wrong with you. Between The Shins and Phoenix, there’s a fair share of “crossover” indie pop acts too, working their way onto the radio and the general public’s consciousness. Despite being around for 10 years, The New Pornographers, for some reason, have yet to break through that wall. They’re now on their fifth long player, and not a single one of their songs has gotten airplay on a Chicago radio station. Considering at the very least their first three albums were critically acclaimed slices of sugary pop that stuck with you for days and weeks on end, it’s even more perplexing. That’s before you consider the roster of great talents that make up this supergroup, from formidable band “leader” A.C. Newman to Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and siren songstress Neko Case. What is it going to take to get this great band to finally break through? Or are many people scared away by the band name itself, not wanting to be caught searching the internet or talking to their friends about “pornographers”? This mystery is beyond my own comprehension, but the hope is that this new album “Together” might finally earn them the sort of attention they so richly deserve from the right kind of people.

Coming off the somewhat disappointing slow player that was 2007’s “Challengers”, The New Pornographers appear to be feeling better these days, because the quicker and more upbeat tunes of their earlier albums are back on “Together”. Granted, we’re not talking about the high speed sugar-fueled pop of songs like “From Blown Speakers” and “Letter from An Occupant”, but the tempo is definitely faster than most of what was on the last album. So you can’t quite call it a full return to form, but there are a few differemt elements that come into play and add a different dimension to this well-established band.

First is the instrumentation. It feels like The New Pornographers have graduated from the rank and file of other groups in a similar vein and moved into new territory with their sound. Guitars still form the basis for their sound, but for the first time we’re really hearing a full string section and/or horns present through most of the songs. They’ve dabbled in these sorts of arrangements before, just not with the breadth and depth they are now. It was mainly hinted at on their third album “Twin Cinema” and now that transition appears complete.

Secondly, though the vocals have always been shared relatively equally between Newman, Bejar and Case, “Together” truly is the first record where every single band member seems like they’re on the exact same page. There’s a cohesiveness present that takes away the glaring differences between tracks written by the band’s three principal members. Largely helping to create this impression is that they all sing on virtually every song, whether that means taking on a verse or simply adding vocal harmonies. In other words, even a Dan Bejar-fronted song doesn’t always stay that way, and the added vocal diversity does some great work in helping this album to gel from start to finish.

It’s the small things that don’t change which give me the most pause on “Together”. Problems mainly stem from the lyrics, which in typical A.C. Newman fashion, appear to be written from the heart and then colored in with shades of grey. It’s clear that many of the stories he tells are personal, sometimes intensely so, but the wordplay is so hazy and unclear, you’re never entirely sure what exactly he’s getting at. The same goes for Bejar, who’s basically been doing that for his entire career. By keeping the audience at a lyrical distance, an emotional connection to these songs is increasingly difficult to establish, forcing you to settle for the general upbeat fun the music and not the words are offering up.

Despite those minor quibbles, “Together” is a very strong effort from The New Pornographers. They do much more right than they do wrong here, and compared to their last album this one’s a treat. In terms of where this might stand amid their critically acclaimed catalogue, I’m still not entirely sure. What I can tell you with confidence is that “Together” isn’t first or even the second best thing they’ve done to date. The most important thing you need to know is that this album is essentially a return to form for the band, while at the same time taking some of the necessary steps they need for progression’s sake. It marks one of the better indie pop records I’ve heard so far this year, and naturally I would recommend you get a copy should you feel up to it. Now if only more radio stations would give this band a chance.

The New Pornographers – Your Hands (Together)

Buy “Together” from Amazon

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