30 May 2008

The worst (album) covers

Here at VK, usually when we talk about covers, we're referring to a song played by a band that was originally done by another band. However, I don't think that actual albums covers--that is, the "artwork" on the face of the album--get credit where they are due.

Oftentimes, a great piece of art not only draws the eye, but enhances the vibe and message as the musical component of the album. At its best, the work can be as sublime, moving, beautiful or curious as the songs it's packaging.

HOWEVER! Bad album artwork can really backfire. The Sun-Sentinel has put together a gallery of the worst album covers of all time. You can even upload atrocities you've seen, and vote for the worst.

Most, like this, are simply an overbearing punch of retro SO ugly, even Threadless wouldn't pick it up for kitsch value (ouch!):

Others are "merely" an affront to the basic aesthetic sense of those who have better than 20/400 vision, but are an all-out insult to those with even a modicum of graphic design preference:

Others... there is simply no excuse, and nothing to say:

WOW. Well. On that note, let's take this "covers" term and deliver some random cover songs for you as well.

Computerization: the custom songs!!!

Computerization = Derek, and for $9 weency bucks he will custom-make you a song all about you, and throw in a copy of his full-length album to boot!!! Tip-toeing into this musical adventure, I decided to give this a try!!! I filled out the little form on his site. Delivered as promised, I received a fantastic song all about me, custom-tailored with subjects and sounds!!! And, to my delight, in 5/4 time!!! Check it out:

Computerization - June is Totally Awesome.mp3

A sample of the (obviously very important and completely true) lyrics:
If I had to murder all my friends
to talk to June for just a second,
no debate, I wouldn't hesitate,
they'd be dead in a mere instant.

And I know that others feel the same,
no point in trying to resist it.
June's so smart, she could take us all to Mars,
but since she's not, it's probably not very cool there.

Clearly the best part of Summer is in June.
We get to say her name every day.
Don't pretend you think it isn't true,
or else everybody will hate you.

If I could deliver the world peace,
of course I'd ask for June's opinion.
What she says is obviously correct.
I feel stupid for even mentioning it.

See/hear all this and more at Computerization's excitable, minimalist, web-2.0 Web site, where you can request your own custom song!!! I recommend you all do this!!!

29 May 2008

The Magic

There is nothing better then being pleasantly surprised by an opening band. More often then not, I find myself standing there, arms crossed, only half-listening, impatiently tapping my foor in anticipation of, you know, the headlining band I actually paid to see. But this wasn't the case last Saturday when I saw a little Canadian band called The Magic open for Islands.

I was first struck by their appearance. The lead singer had this black velvety blazer and a faux-pompador-like hairdo. Classy guy, and it turned out he had a voice to match. Essentially, The Magic make soulful, orchestral synth-pop. They've got a bit of a herky-jerky Talking Heads vibe. There's this confident twitch about them -like if a person with Tourette's could play instruments, but have complete control over over when twitch when they play their instruments -and were also really into new wave. They also vaguely reminded me of OMD in terms of melodramatic vocals. Oh and just as they launched into "Deep Water" my friend and I were almost positive they were going to play a Blondie cover, but instead they surprised us with a spazzy, seven minute jam. While they only have a five song self-titled EP out now, I'm incredibly curious what these guys have in store for the future.

Also they appear to be un-google-able because I can't seem to find a Web site for them anywhere. Otherwise I'd totally link you guys up to their awesomeness. But I swear they exist.

EDIT - They apparently do have a Web site! Link here.

No Sound - The Magic
Never Lock the Door - The Magic

28 May 2008

Love Needs Us

A while ago, and I do mean a while, a year easy, I was driving somewhere with my boyfriend. Where we were going wasn’t important, probably just to the movies or something, but no, what is important to this story is what was on the radio. We rarely listen to the radio, on account of my compulsive mix tape making behaviour, but on this sunny day we were.

And in Australia, or at least my tiny part of it, if you don’t want to listen to rubbish all the time, you have to listen to Triple J, which is only rubbish part of the time. They were interviewing some guy from some band who had just won a competition. Triple J is always holding competitions to find the next big thing, how many next big things can there be out there? So I wasn’t really listening at first. But the guy’s voice drew me in. Even a year later I can remember the passion and excitement in his voice. He described his band, which seemed to be him and a five-piece all-girl choir, to the DJ. He didn’t seem to think there was anything odd about a band consisting of him and a five-piece all-girl choir. The DJ went on to describe the sound of the band as Pink Floyd meets Polyphonic Spree. I was intrigued! But I live in a very hilly area. Like, big hills all over the place. And when you live in a hilly place what you’ll find is at the top of the hill you’ll have radio reception, and at the bottom, well, you don’t. Just as the DJ was about to name the band and go a song the radio cut out!

But I was not foiled. It took a while, but endless searching of the complicated Triple J Web site gave me a band name. Cuthbert and the Night Walkers. Some internet snooping let me know that they didn’t have an album out, but I did manage to get my hands on two demos: "Red Frogs" and "Sparky." I was impressed. They did indeed sound like Pink Floyd mixed with Polyphonic Spree. The tracks were of dubious sound quality, but I loved the choir sound mixed with a classically Australian rock sound. Anyone who received a mix CD from me during this time probably got one of those two songs on it.

But, there is a lot of new music out there to be discovered, and I eventually forgot about Cuthbert and the Night Walkers. Until yesterday. I was looking for a Silver Jews CD and a cute little album cover caught my eye. It looked like a picture book cover or something. Closer inspection revealed it to be a full length Cuthbert and the Night Walkers album! Oh, how pleased I was! I put it on as soon as I got home. The songs were a lot more polished than the two demos, and some of the darkness had been lost. But a lot more was gained. The cleaner sound allowed the choir to really shine, and there was not a dud amongst the 10 songs I’d not heard before. Although, the version of Sparky to appear on the album was without lyrics. The subdued, kind of creepy piano instrumental it had become was very cool, (very cool) but I’d always liked the ambiguously sinister little story the song told.

All in all, a very cool album. Check them out!

Cuthbert and the Night Walkers - Love Needs Us

Cuthbert and the Night Walkers - Sparky (demo with lyrics).mp3
Cuthbert and the Night Walkers - Sparky (lyricless album version).mp3
Cuthbert and the Night Walkers - University.mp3
Cuthbert and the Night Walkers - Maggie's Health.mp3

Buy Love Needs Us

27 May 2008

Song(s) of the Magpie

Why are songs about magpies so damn beautiful? I say this because there are not one, not two, but three songs currently on my hard drive about the bird.

"Song of the Magpie" by Sea Wolf is by far the most stunning. Swelling strings, and an epic refrain of "I forgive you" make for one heavily emotional, yet never maudlin song.

Sea Wolf - Song of the Magpie.mp3

Oh, and here are the other two songs in case you were wondering:

the Mountain Goats - Magpie.mp3
Patrick Wolf - Magpie.mp3

25 May 2008

Islands @ Webster Hall, NYC 5/24/08

In case you couldn't already tell, we really love the new Islands album around here. It's all in the strings, I swear. And seeing their two violinists go at it live in an all-out, rapid fire duel just solidified how truly epic the band's newfound sound really is. Holy crap, those guys handle their bows with a vigor and passion reserved for lovers.
Naturally the new material translated fantastic live, especially the 11 minute epic "Vertigo". But old faves like "Rough Gem" were also a blast. And hey, not one, but two encores.

Islands - Kids Don't Know Shit.m4a

23 May 2008

The Complete Sufjan Stevens

So you finally broke down and bought Enjoy Your Rabbit--and actually really liked it!--finally completing your collection of albums, and now you're wondering, what's left? After scouring Hype Machine for some nummies like "The 50 States Song" and the EPIC "Majesty Snowbird," you might begin to wonder what else you can get your feverish paws on.

Fear no more, for we have blazed this trail for you. In the past few months we've made a couple other posts of pure, non-album-y, Sufjan-y goodness. Perhaps it all seems a bit heavy-handed of late, to try and fill the void we're left during his period of becoming a Jeff Mangum-esque recluse much-deserved rest between projects. Perhaps it's sheer selfish indulgence. But more than that, it feels like a call of duty, to leave these beacons of amazingness in the vast black ocean that is the internets. Come, come to the light and indulge this weekend.

Michigan B-sides:

Other rarities:


By the way, have you seen the video for Say Hello? The soft, sweet song is paired with a mission-impossible-style assassination action sequence in a subway, where Sufjan throws punches, gets in a knife fight and hurls a grenade. No, really.


(Non-Christmasy) Covers BY Sufjan:

Covers OF Sufjan:

Oh, and if you're unfamiliar with Brad Mehldau, he's an amazing modern jazz pianist who does some incredible extended covers of contemporary music, along with his own brilliant creations.

21 May 2008

Can't Get Enough VK? or Facebook?


Or perhaps you're missing VK posts because Facebook sucks up all your time. Believe me, we know. So we just created a Facebook group for Volume Knob:


Join, or just stalk it. And while we're at it, here's a completely unrelated song that I've been listening to a lot lately:

Feist - Lover's Spit (Broken Social Scene cover/B-side).mp3

18 May 2008

The Mountain Goats - Brooklyn Masonic Temple 5/16/08

We write about the Mountain Goats a lot on this blog, but Saturday's show at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple was no ordinary show. The set list was littered with obscurities, that even the most devout fan NEVER could have fathomed hearing live. A few requests were taken from the tMG forums (our "Going to Buffalo" pick sadly went unnoticed), but even despite the litany of suggestions, no one could have predicted the evening's set.

A solo John Darnielle opened with "Trans-Jordanian Blues." Let me reiterate that: TRANS-JORDIAN-MOTHER-EFFING-BLUES. This is a song that was only released on a limited edition 3" in Japan almost a decade ago. There are only 100 copies. If you listen to the live bootleg, you can almost hear my jaw hitting the floor. Unbelievable.

NYC Taper has the entire show up for download. Also all the proceeds benefited AIDS research. That's pretty damn neat too.

the Mountain Goats - Trans-Jordanian Blues (live at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple).mp3

16 May 2008

Narrow Stairs: A tough climb

I'm honestly surprised at the number of reviews so suddenly flung out into the blogosphere about Narrow Stairs. Honestly, it's a hard album to get into. It starts with an 8-minute, mostly instrumental song as only the second song in. Having the longest song up front is bold. Perhaps not so bold for your average Rush fan, but for established fans of the already much-belov'd indie group, this can come as a shocker.

It does not scream "Death Cab" the minute you throw it on, unlike "Title Track," the killer opener to "We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes." It's certainly no "Transatlanticism," nor "Plans"--though it does have strong elements of both. It does not grab you immediately. It takes several thorough listens to penetrate. But once you get there, it's well worth it.

Gems like "Your New Twin-Sized Bed" are the aural accompaniment to "We Looked Like Giants" and "Summer Skin;" they appear to be cut from a similar cloth. While "Pity and Fear" uses novel percussion--and ends with an abrupt, ragged cut-off--it leaves a minor, haunting emptiness often found echoing behind Gibbard's ever-nasal croons.

This 25-minute behind-the-scenes/making-of is a nice inside to what's really going on, philosophically, behind the ever-evolving group:

Death Cab for Cutie - Cath....m4a
Death Cab for Cutie - Your New Twin-Sized Bed.m4a

14 May 2008

Stay in Arm's Way

This new Islands album is sooooo good. Unlike the previous album of clanging percussion, brash vocals and potent lyrics, this new magnum opus is more instrumental. It's very rich, more polished, and with the joyful return of bass clarinet, we hear smooth strings and epic, orchestral layers. It takes a few listens to get through the meaning of the less-transparent lyrics, but so worth it. The final track is 11+ minutes of pure Awesome of Homeric proportions.

Islands - Vertigo (If It's a Crime).m4a

Arm's Way comes out next week, but you can should pre-order it now.

13 May 2008

Move Every Muscle, Make Every Sound

Much like The Apples in Stereo or The New Pornographers, De Novo Dahls' latest album "Move Every Muscle, Make Every Sound" is so such a sugar rush, it's time signature might as well be C6 H12 O6.

De Novo Dahl - Heartbreaker.m4a
De Novo Dahl - Shout.m4a

08 May 2008


This mash-up was only a matter of time. Some very clever person (OK, Alfredo Lapuz, who goes by the remixer name Immuzikation) spliced up two very catchy acronym-ridden songs--Justice's rightfully ubiquitous "D.A.N.C.E." and Santogold's soon-to-be ubiquitous "L.E.S. Artistes"--et voilà! you get the all-caps-happy L.E.S.D.A.N.C.E.

Santogold vs. Justice - L.E.S.D.A.N.C.E. (Immuzikation remix).mp3

06 May 2008

Food Will Win The War

Perhaps I'm just a sucker for rock bands with violins, but I repeatedly found myself thinking "hmmm, these guys are pretty good" upon catching a set by Food Will Win The War last Saturday at a Brooklyn house party. Now, considering how many bands--the good, the bad, the insufferably hip--play Williamsburg or thereabouts each and every weekend, I was more than pleasantly impressed to catch one of better (and not pretentious!) ones.

At certain times, they kind of reminded me of a mellower version of The National, but then those punchy violin parts would kick imbuing the music with a folksy vigor. But I think it was "Amassed Complications" that really did it for me. It's straight-up relationship melancholy, with deceptively catchy opening chords. Check out the songs below and stream more (including the phenomenal "Dark Mono 3") on their MySpace page.

Food Will Win The War - Amassed Complications.mp3
But I don't think she can take that chance, there's been a lot of complications that've been amassed through this romance. And I don't think we can take that chance.

Food Will Win The War - Traveling.mp3

05 May 2008

Sound the Alarm!

We get a respectable/occasionally overwhelming amount of post in the VK mail box, as this came to us. Mayday Radio's, The Subtle Divide came to me on a particularly harried week and went into the "to listen to" pile, but something about it nagged at me, and I pulled it out for a listen. And then listened again, and again.

With an impressive amount of spit and shine for a debut, this rapidly maturing rock-pop with underlying classical training comes through in a bold way. U2-esque riffs and surprising lyrics offer a lush rock punch. Fill 'er up on sweet and savory:

Mayday Radio - Innocence Breakdown.mp3
Mayday Radio - Ultraviolet.mp3

04 May 2008

I'm still not as happy as I would have been with you.

You know how I sometimes do that thing where I post whatever song is stuck in my head regardless of timeliness or relevancy, well this is one of those posts. It's a quick song, but a catchy one. The Happy Birthdays kind of sound like Camera Obscura, but with a little extra kick. Seriously catchy.

The Happy Birthdays - I'm Still Not As Happy... .mp3

I'm still not as happy as I would have been with you

02 May 2008

You oughta be proud that I'm getting good marks.

Sad Kermit (by far the most emo of all the muppets) covers Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay" and re-enacts the scene it soundtracked in The Royal Tenenbaums. Offbeat, yet reverent and bizarrely affecting.