30 July 2008

glitter & doom

Everyone who would want this has probably already found a way to grab it, but I ... I ... I am standing here beside myself, listening to a full-on, God-bless-NPR Tom Waits (podcast?) concert. Right click on the subject line/link to get it your own self. And remember to donate the next time NPR is doing one of those annoying pledge drives, 'kay?

Another super-fantastic new-ish Grizzly Bear song

Ok, so this song has been floating around for about half as long as its title suggests, BUT it has captivated since its initial release last week. I don't want to say it's "poppier" then anything Grizzly Bear has ever recorded. However it's certainly more upbeat. Although upbeat in a manic, frenzied, gasping-to-catch-your-breath kind of way, and not a la-la-la, sunshine-and-rainbows way. There's a weird scrambly keyboard riff and of course the eerie harmonies are still ever-present. While it might sound ominous, "Two Weeks" bodes incredibly well for their next album!

Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear (Live on Letterman)

27 July 2008

She & Him @ Terminal 5, NYC July 26, 2008

Honestly, what could be better then making a living by prancing around on stage in a shiny dress with a tambourine? Really I have so few answers to that query after seeing She & Him last night. The oh-so-coy Ms. Zooey Deschanel batted her eyelashes and belted out her old-timey tunes, leaving me very pleased, and just a teensy bit jealous. I want her voice! I want her body! (Seriously, could you pull off that backless number and four-inch heels? Didn't think so.)
And so Zooey sang and M. Ward strummed (along with a full backing band too) playing lots of album cuts, a couple of covers (including an unrecorded Joni Mitchell one) and even a new song which sounded just dandy. Of course I feel really bad for the poor suckers stuck in the back of the venue. For those of you non-New Yorkers here's the part where I vent about how Terminal 5, a cavernous, 3,000 capacity venue is really, really unideal for most bands with guitars, especially quieter, folksy acts (Iron & Wine is slated to play there in November, bad, bad call on the promoters part). The acoustics are not the greatest and the sight lines leave much to be desired (especially for those of us who barely crack the 5 feet mark). As one guy who got stuck in the back during a recent Raconteurs show put it, "it's like seeing the best band possible...in your high school gym". But considering I got their relatively early and managed to stakeout a spot fairly close to the stage, I'm not complaining one bit.

Oh and to add to the girly goodness, Becky Stark lead singer of Lavendar Diamond sang back-up and even took the spotlight for three minutes, as she sang a lovely rendition "Garden Rose". If you like She & Him, you'll totally dig Lavender Diamond's sound. It's also in the same love-lorn, sepia-tinged aesthetic. Becky also wears pretty dresses, making it one awesome night of cutesy overload sensory stimulation. Like I said, I'm not complaining.

I Was Made For You - She & Him
Garden Rose - Lavender Diamond

26 July 2008

Mastering Master of None

Sometimes a band you're not at all familiar with covers a song you're very familiar with. But they re-do it in a way that's surprisingly transformative and just so... so pleasant. Such is the case with Young Rival's jaunty little cover of Beach House's "Master of None". While the original, a haunting organ drone of a song that's about as dark and gauzy as a funeral shroud, is in no need of an improvement, Young Rival decided to dust off some of the cobwebs. Speeding up the tempo a bit, they imbue it with newfound vigor and jangle. I didn't think it was possible for such an ethereal tune to take on such a swagger, yet I like it. Compare and contrast for yourself:

Young Rival - Young Rival (Beach House cover)

Master of None - Beach House

23 July 2008

Interview with the Silver Jews

I was fortunate enough to interview lead Silver Jew, David Berman and as you might imagine his responses to my questions were just as witty and self-deprecating as his lyrics. The 40 year old indie rock/alt-country godfather has been through a lot. We discussed depression, drugs, over-hyped scenesters and the awe of being alive. One of his quotes was downright poignant:

“Ever since I was a kid, even in misery, I’ve always been a split second away from a state of awe at being alive, in awe that anything exists at all. Because awe can be fearful or joyful, there's so much more range from that point of view, as opposed to the coldly rational one that keeps us alive on the inner rings. So I would say that part of the time with Tanglewood Numbers, and more fully on this one, I've been working in a day-to-day state of awe, or at least close enough to let me work underneath its light. But I don’t mean to discount the fact that you really have to shoehorn yourself into this place. Which can mean cutting off all ties for a while.”

You can read the rest of my interview with David Berman at Crawdaddy!

If you haven't bought Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea tsk, tsk.

We Could Be Looking For the Same Thing - Silver Jews

22 July 2008

Psychopharmacology & Rock n Roll

A hedonistic lifestyle practically prescribes sex and drugs, with rock n roll bringing up the rear. It seems these three activities combine well: Case in point, I Googled "psychopharmacology" and this image came up on the first page. Songs about sex seem almost as popular with rockers as having sex on drugs... while listening to rock. Anyway you slice it, the sinful trifecta of pleasure had been done.

But what of songs about drugs? Not nearly as many as about sex, and they have always tended to be more cloaked in mystery than in outright bragging joy. Out of curiosity I compiled a mix of songs when I noticed that so many particular drugs were mentioned by name--which seems to be a relatively recent development, far as song writing goes.

These are listed in chronological order. In general, there's clouded discussion starting in the late 1960's and 1970's to the well-known illicit substances at the time. With poetic metaphor, description and nicknames for the drugs of the era, acid (LSD), cocaine, marijuana and heroin were sung of in terms of various degrees of love/hate relationships. Should the topic of a song be called into question, it could all too easily be passed off as a cryptic tune about a lover.

As we progress into the 1980's, we see the appearance of those old standbys come out as more boldly spoken about, especially in the context of getting rehabilitated for addiction. "Angel dust" (PCP) peaked in popularity in the early 1980's so it should be no surprise that this song was written then (imminent to the group's disbandment).

In the 1990's, however, the drugs get more complex, as do the songs about them. Newer, "designer" drugs (Ketamine, Ecstasy) and commonly abused name-brand prescription drugs, most commonly painkillers, (Thorazine, Dilaudid) make their rise in music. The question is, is this a reflection of a rise in the use of said substances, or just a commentary on a culture that more openly tolerates discussions about it? (Perhaps, if you can answer this question, you deserve the Master's degree and not me.)

Finally, in most recent years we see a longing to return to the days when drugs were just the medicine in great-grandpappy's medicine kit. Morphine? Codeine? I'm waiting for a song about whiskey being used as a toothache cure before the year is out.

The Beatles - Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.mp3

The Velvet Underground - Heroin.mp3

Black Sabbath - Sweet Leaf.m4a

Peter Laughner - Amphetamines.mp3

The Ramones - Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.mp3

Odyssey - Angel Dust.mp3

Nirvana - Lithium.mp3

Eels - Novocain for the Soul.mp3

Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire - Tea & Thorazine.m4a

The Magnetic Fields - Take Ecstasy With Me.mp3

Jolie Holland - Old Fashioned Morphine.mp3

Placebo - Special K (Timo Maas Remix).mp3

the Mountain Goats - Dilaudid.mp3

John Vanderslice - Tablespoon Of Codeine.mp3

Sia - The Girl You Lost To Cocaine.mp3

Finally, one for the namesake of this post:
Firewater - Psychopharmacology.mp3

19 July 2008

Cover Song Bacchanalia II!

Two more cool chains I worked out. Trying to find some that are longer than just 4/5 artists though.

The Killing Moon --->
You Oughta Know --->
Alanis Morissette --->
Fake Plastic Trees --->
Radiohead --->
Sunday Bloody Sunday --->
U2 --->
Love Will Tear Us Apart --->
Joy Division --->
Atrocity Exhibit

Foo Fighters --->
Keep the Car Running --->
Arcade Fire --->
Born on a Train --->
The Magnetic Fields --->
Heroes --->
David Bowie --->
Wild is the Wind --->
Nina Simone --->
Lilac Wine

18 July 2008

excuses and half-truths and fortified wine

Several years ago, I was introduced to the Hold Steady by an old high school friend as follows:

"You'll like it. You were Catholic, right?"

And it certainly is true that Craig Finn draws on the rites and passages of the Catholic church like few other indie/mainstream artists do. It's all Catholicism and drugs for the Hold Steady boys, and addled nostalgia. On tape, Finn is like the mean-but-tortured boyfriend from 10 years ago whom you couldn't quite break away from even after you broke up. On stage, he is a completely different animal, absurdly pleased with his own verbal tics and foibles, with a look Our Local Photographer described as "my accountant turned rock star."

stay positive

"Stay Positive," like the previous three albums, continues the balls-to-the-wall barroom rocker tradition that earned the Hold Steady the "classic rock for indie kids" designation from Our Man in Tanzania, and Holly does make an appearance, in case you were worried that she might be written out.

"One for the Cutters" employs a harpsichord, something you'd be more likely to find on a Decemberists album than a Hold Steady album, and to great effect. The content of the song reminds me of a recent local tragedy where two high school kids were tortured and ultimately killed by a half-dozen more after being called to come over to a "party" at one of the big empty houses in one of our more wasteland-esque suburbs, made so by the crash of the property market. The story "One for the Cutters" tells is not that story, but it is a similar one, a story of the sociopath-ization (if you will) of youth.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that it's a rare band that still has me enthralled four albums in, but the Hold Steady is that band. The album has enough emo* hooks, e.g., in "Lord, I'm Discouraged," which features one of many ripping guitar solos by Tad Kubler, and in the last track, "Untitled," a not-to-be-missed mash-up of three or four unfinished songs. Oh, and J. Mascis shows up on banjo on a brutal but quiet little number called "Both Crosses," for those of you who might care.

20080120 4059

We saw them try out "Stay Positive" (the track) in January when we snuck up to Ybor City for a secret show, and it rocks even harder live than it does on the album. This band has a core fan base (seen here) that Finn (at far left) is probably referring to when he sings, "because the kids at our shows, they'll have kids of their own." They were a more diverse group of people than I would have expected to see, certainly, and I hope "Slapped Actress," a very self-aware piece about what it's like to be the ones on stage, wasn't entirely about that night ...

The bottom line is this: if you really liked the Hold Steady already, you will really like this album. If you didn't, what's wrong with you? give them a try, and then go get the album. It's at the big boxes for $9.99, and it is totally worth your hard-earned American dollars.

Lord, I'm Discouraged.mp3
Stay Positive.mp3

*I am too old (36) to really understand what that word means, so I use it to describe anything that makes me feel intensely nostalgic, or sad, or emotional... which may be exactly what it means, but, as I said, I don't know...

Siren Fest Mix!

It's that time of year again. Woohoo, tomorrow's Siren Fest! Great, free music at Coney Island all day. Did I mention it's FREE? Get ready to endure the heat (forecast says it's gonna hit 94!) and the hipsters (I can spot those plastic, neon shades already) because it will be so totally worth it! Check out that line-up and our accompanying mix:

7/4 (Shoreline) - Broken Social Scene
Gardenia - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Can't Say No - The Helio Sequence
Creeper - Islands
Heart of Chambers - Beach House
Dying is Fine - Ra Ra Riot
Bats Over the Pacific Ocean - Jaguar Love
Drop-Out - Times New Viking
Dry Clothes - Annuals
Red And Purple - The Dodos
Dear Me - Film School
Nowheres Nigh - Parts & Labor
Chipping Ice - These Are Powers
Get Off - Dragons of Zynth

17 July 2008

Cover Song Bacchanalia!

Being the uber-geeky music-tard I am, I was up until the wee hours last night, spurred on the by the idea that, given enough artists covering other artists, that "chains" of covers would appear, and, perhaps, ultimately a "loop" of covers--that is, one artist who covers another, who covers someone else and so on until we get to a band that covers the artist I started with. (Geeky, I warned you!)

Well, while I'm still in search of the ever-elusive loop, I did maniacally scribble out notes for several awesome cover chains. So here they are!

David Crowder Band --->
O God Where Are You Now (In Pickerel Lake? Pigeon? Marquette? Mackinaw?) --->
Sufjan Stevens --->
The Lakes of Canada --->
The Innocence Mission --->
Follow Me --->
John Denver --->
Song of Wyoming

Fun, eh? Here's another!

Snow Patrol --->
You Will. You? Will. You? Will. You? Will --->
Bright Eyes --->
Devil Town --->
Daniel Johnston --->
I Saw Her Standing There --->
The Beatles --->
Mama You've Been On My Mind
Bob Dylan --->
Hallelujah --->
Leonard Cohen --->
A Thousand Kisses Deep

I'm working on more, stay tuned!

I'm Tired, I'm Bitter, I'm Hungry

Do we here at Volume Knob dig Islands? Why yes, yes we do. So it's hardly surprising that we (well, one fifth of us at the very least) dig 'Moody Motorcycle,' the debut album of Nick Thorbun (currently of Islands) and Jim Guthrie's (formally of Islands) band 'Human Highway.'

The sound is, hmmm, well, I guess you could say it's like a very stripped back, folky Of Montreal. The whimsy and quirkiness is there, both in lyric and melody, but the overall sound is somewhat more Simon and Garfunkel-y. And there is a hint of lo-fi there that my lo-fi loving heart warms to.

The album has not hit me as immediately as the recent Islands' release did, but it's very good. I suspect it's going to be a grower, and I look forward to letting it grow.

So, you should be buy it when it gets released on August 19, (I will be!)

Human Highway - The Sound.mp3
Human Highway - Ode to Abner.mp3

15 July 2008

Jukebox the Ghost @ Arts Fest, State College, PA 7/12/08

Prior to Saturday, I've only seen Jukebox the Ghost play in teeny dive bars on the Lower East Side (three times no less). So it was rather jarring to see them play outside at a suburban, college town arts fair. Not a hipster in sight; no overpriced $4 cans of PBR to be found in a 200 mile radius. However, the piano power-pop trio quickly won the mixed crowd over, school kids, grandmas and even my friend Deb alike. Playing their catchy-as-all-hell tunes from their full length debut "Live and Let Ghosts", these boys rocked.

And thats to say nothing of the witty banter and endearing stage presence. Lead singer Ben Thornewill was utterly mesmerized by this intricate water play contraption in which buckets of water randomly splashed down into the pool underneath (see the photo below). Imagine trying to focus on playing your instrument with that oddity in your direct line of sight, haha. Yet somehow they managed to pull off a near perfect set full of hand claps, sing-alongs and songs about setting yourself on fire.

Lighting Myself on Fire - Jukebox the Ghost
Under My Skin - Jukebox the Ghost

Welcome, Julie!

Volume Knob is happy to announce that we've recently added a new contributor! Welcome to Julie, who is blogging with us from sunny Florida. Expect to see her posts musing on a variety of albums and waxing poetic about music in general soon!

Jens Lekman - Julie.m4a

14 July 2008

I'm just sitting on the shelf

Cute song + cute girl + cartoon birds + decapitation(?!) = She & Him's video for "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"

12 July 2008

You've got to Sia this

Add this to my "late to the party" file of artists I don't get on the bandwagon with until everyone else has already loved them. I recently discovered a bunch of songs by Australian songstress Sia off her 2007 album Some People Have Real Problems. I dug them hard, so I bought the album, and whoa! Vocal pyrotechnics aside, the tunes are sincere yet whimsical, earnest and engaging, all without being overdone on this piano-based pop powerhouse.

Sia - Academia.mp3
Sia - Death by Chocolate.mp3

11 July 2008

Don't just let it pass on through ya

All hail Andrew Bird on his 35th! Our favorite violin-based chanteuse whistled his way into our hearts some years ago, and we've been entranced ever since. Tweet, Tweet!

Andrew Bird - The Happy Birthday Song.mp3

09 July 2008

Best albums for first half of 2008

In no particular order, a brief rundown at what's pulled at our heartstrings so far this year. Please click on the artist's name to buy these albums. We repeat: Buy! Buy! Buy!

the Mountain Goats - Heretic Pride: Superchunk's Jon Wurster is a welcome addition to the band.
San Bernadino.mp3

Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight: Driving, earnest songs that belie the band's meek moniker.
Keep Yourself Warm.mp3

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago: These delicate little songs have gently led me through many dark places this year.
Skinny Love.mp3

Islands - Arm's Way: Epic from start to finish. The strings are incredible!

The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely: An extremely cohesive album. A sweltering album that, in my opinion, surpasses the bands debut.
Salute Your Solution.mp3

Death Cab For Cutie - Narrow Stairs: A shift in sound for the band. I've heard a lot of bad things about this album, but I'm really enjoying it.
I Will Posses Your Heart.m4a

Cut Copy - In Ghost Colours: Dance, Dance, Dance like you're at an 80's prom, except with way hipper music!
Unforgettable Season.mp3

Silver Jews - Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea: David Berman's wit and rasp at its best.
Candy Jail.m4a

She & Him - Volume 1: The pinnacle of adorableness, plus M. Ward's immaculate, sepia-tinged production.
Black Hole.m4a

Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster...: Britain's cheekiest youngsters rock...with glockenspiel of course.
This Is How You Spell, "HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics".m4a

Vampire Weekend: Unironic pure joy, with a summertime-lounge-y feel.
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.mp3

Flight of the Conchords: Silliness without sappiness, spanning different genres.

Sigur Rós - Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust: Faux-languaged Icelandic group pulls together a sharp, fun, poppy record.
Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur.mp3

08 July 2008

I don't want to wake up knowing I don't have a future.

File this one under "best album of 2007 that I didn't hear until 2008".
It all began a month ago when a friend sent me an mp3 of "Impossible" and exclaimed "if your life had a theme song, this would be it!" That immediately peaked my interest, or at the very least made me morbidly curious considering the amount of stress and angst I was encountering at the time. Luckily the Swedes did not disappoint. They soundtracked my mopiness with brilliant dreamy indie pop- the kind that sparkles and cracks and floats on and on and on. Our Ill Wills overflows with looping, cyclical melodies that at once go everywhere and nowhere, the kind of melodies that both reinforce and assuage our daily melancholia. And I love it for that. You should too.

Impossible - Shout Out Louds
I don't want to feel like I don't have a future

Tonight I Have to Leave It - Shout Out Louds

06 July 2008

Why does this even exist?

Um I guess sometimes stuffed bears just want to make love in this club? I guess Usher just has that effect on whimsical childrens' characters? THIS IS SOOO WRONG:

i am armed with the past, and the will, and a brick

So, I've found my favourite album of the year. Sure, there year is only just half done. But unless Rufus Wainwright and John Darnielle colaberate on an album feauring Sufjan Stevens, I have found my album of the year. Wanna know what it is?

Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight

This album has everything I love in an album. A lead singer with a unique voice. (Kind of like a scottish Connor Oberst with actual vocal skills). Literate lyrics. Emoness but not too much emoness. Clever guitar work. Driving beats. Oh man oh man oh man.

The songs, every damn one, are amazing. They soar and dip and soar even higher. It's mostly just guitar and drums, but these songs are more complex and rich than anything other bassless bands could hope for. And the lyrics pales in comparison to the music. And then the music pales next to the lyrics. And then his voice does something extra Scottish-y and it all pales next to that.

I am just crazy in love with this album. I want everyone to hear it and share the joy. I want to dial random numbers in the phone book and shout 'omg! listen!' and hold the receiver up to the speakers. And I bet they wouldn't hang up, they'd stay on the line for the full 48.2 minutes it took the album to play through.

The Modern Leper

And you are not ill
And I'm not dead.
Doesn't that make us the perfect pair?

Keep Yourself Warm
It takes more than fucking someone
you don't know to keep warm.


01 July 2008

Seven Swoons

I can't let this go by without a mention. Today is Sufjan's 33rd birthday. I quote our dear friend and reader Katie:

Happy birthday to our favorite indie boyfriend! He's lost all his baby feathers and become the full-grown, manly swan I always knew he'd become.

Sufjan Sevens - Happy Birthday.mp3

TV on the Radio @ Town Ballroom, Buffalo NY, 6/30/08

I have to admit: I bought Return to Cookie Mountain in 2006, and, despite the wide critical acclaim, it never grabbed me. So it was with initial ambivalence and hesitation I went to last's night's show, at Jess' urging that "they're really fun live!"

And they were. I'm a convert. In comparison, the album stuff falls flat. While there was plenty of dancing (good!) and moshing (bad!), the set consistently delivered a soul-fueled prog rock performance. With heady head-bangers interspersed with slow jamz, the Buffalo debut of this great group was fraught with high spirits and deep emotion.

I mean, c'mon, I know that you also totally want a T-shirt with a giant rosary on it and instructions on how to use it (well, all us lapsed Catholics, anyway.)

And really, experimental rock doesn't even scratch the surface: Guitar + wind chimes + cymbals + clapping + whistling = WIN

And, there was secret-sharing! Because I positively can't keep this a secret (nor could I expect the other few hundred folks there) TVotR announced they just finished a NEW ALBUM!!!!! I am hoping/thinking it will be out this fall/winter. He said "it sucks though!" which I highly doubt, if it has any of the energy that was expressed last night. But they did debut one of the new songs:

So, it is with some remorse I am not offering up any downloads, as I only have album cuts and it just seems trite in comparison. The good news is that there were many recorders out there, so I recommend poking around Hype Machine and YouTube for clips in the next few days as they surface: you'll be amply rewarded with goodness.