There are times in some bands’ careers when, in order to take the next step forward, it first has to take a step back.
That is what has occurred with Cincinnati-based desert-rockers Valley of the Sun between the release of 2013’s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk and the recently-released album Volume Rock. For the new full-length (issued in late April through Swedish-based label Fuzzorama Records), the duo — guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier and drummer Aaron Boyer — has toned down some of Thunderhawk’s more eclectic and intricate tendencies in favor of bombastic and driving rhythms. This has resulted in album that has lost a little musical depth, but has gained a far greater grip on the listener’s ear.
Volume Rock establishes its tonal shift right out of the gate with a trio of absolutely monumental Rock & Roll bangers. “Eternal Forever,” “Wants and Needs” and “The Hunt” showcase the strengths that Valley has spent so much time and effort honing. Ferrier’s soaring vocals have a range and power that commands the listener’s attention, while Boyer hits his cymbals with the strength of a meteor crash, his playing drawing your attention whenever Ferrier isn’t on the mic. Weaving throughout is Ferrier’s clean and infectious guitar work, with riff layered upon riff and crafting an auditory sandwich that headbangers are sure to want of bite of. But VotS retains its deeper side on Volume Rock, with Ferrier’s lyrics carrying many of his ongoing themes of higher consciousness, personal introspection and Earth’s natural beauty. It’s just that on this go around, the lyrics are wrapped in even more hooks, making the tracks more instantly and irresistibly sing-along-worthy.
This isn’t to say that Volume Rock is simple or toned down. It’s just that the flourishes found within seem designed to be more easily replicated (and perhaps more impactful) live, and overall there is a more natural feel to the songs. Hand claps, tambourine, a 12-string guitar interlude in “Land of Fools” and other ornamentation give the album a fresh sound while still keeping the tonal theme running through the entirety of its nine tracks.
Like Thunderhawk, Volume Rock features a reworking of a track from VotS’s first EP, 2010’s five-song Two Thousand Ten. But whereas Thunderhawk’s version of “Centaur Rodeo” added different drumming parts and a few other embellishments, Volume Rock’s re-do of “I Breathe the Earth” is more heavily tweaked, bolstering the song’s strengths and mending some weaknesses, while also adding more than a minute to its original running time. The backing vocals are stronger and more dynamic, the guitar tone has more depth and the drumming sounds fuller. With “Earth,” Valley of the Sun was able to take a song that longtime fans already loved and make it even better.
While Volume Rock is undoubtedly a fast and furious LP, fans of the VotS’s more expansive work will still find plenty to love. Of special note is “Speaketh the Shaman” and album closer, “Empty Visions.” Both songs exceed the five-minute mark (not uncommon for the band), showcasing Ferrier’s guitar work by giving the licks more room to breathe. Ferrier’s vocals also expand to throat-ripping levels, and the combination of his guitar and voice swirl through the tracks like the smoke from a, uh, “cigarette,” filling your speakers with righteous Desert Rock majesty.
In many ways, Volume Rock’s name says it all. This is an album that deserves to be turned to 11. It’s the perfect accompaniment to rolled-down windows, long stretches of highway and summer heat. Valley of the Sun spent three years between releases and the musicians used the time to focus on what made the band what it is, and then pushing those qualities to the forefront. In that respect, Volume Rock is a success — while there may be less going on in each song, there’s more of the band’s essence and identity throughout the album. And that identity is too loud to be snubbed.
Valley of the Sun is currently on another extensive tour overseas promoting Volume Rock, which is available in the States on most major digital platforms (like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Spotify). Certain mail-order services (like Amazon and musicdirect.com) also offer the hard-copy versions on CD and vinyl. You can also stream or purchase the album at Fuzzorama’s Bandcamp site here, or by clicking one of the embedded tracks above.
Old, new, weird or blue – I can’t get enough.
“Thunder Clatter” – Wild Cub
This hand-clapping, shoe-tapping goodness is by far one of the best new jams I’ve came across, making it impossible to skip when it comes up in my track library. It’s upbeat, it’s joyful, and you’ll find yourself singing the final phrase, “I feel it all in the center of it all, you’re the love of my life — the love of my life” over and over again because it’s so damn catchy. (Not to mention, sweet as a peach.) Wild Club is an American Indie group that defines itself by the brand of '80s-inspired Electro-Pop, with “Thunder Clatter” becoming their most successful track. Listen for yourself and see why.
“My Wrecking Ball” – Ryan Adams
Hands down one of my favorite artists of this lifetime. I first discovered Mr. Adams when I got stranded in Arizona after Cincinnati got hit with the blizzard of the century, and I couldn’t find a flight home. (Not complaining.) I gratefully sat outside in the desert air reading Brain On Fire, in which the author talks about how her best-kept memory was hearing Ryan Adams play. And I soon learned for myself about this man — not only known as a beyond talented musician, but his approach on stage is ridiculously comedic, with a touch of thought and wisdom. “My Wrecking Ball” live at Carnegie Hall is one of my favorite tracks to play. It’s a stunning song filled with so much life, and at the very end he draws a laugh from the audience after dropping his hands onto the keyboard and saying, “I really can’t fucking play this thing at all.”
“Nocturne” – Wild Nothing
I’m starting to notice this bouncy, '80s theme in a lot of contemporary music lately, and this song is perfect example of that exact vibe. It’s a track that’s meant to fade in and out of style, with pops of a deep, deep echoing voice flowing after each verse. Not to mention, the guitar is incredible. Lead singer Jack Tatum’s unique voice and song structure creates a sound that can almost be heard in any setting. I choose Wild Nothing for drives to work, writing at my desk or even when I eat dinner on my couch. No matter what the setting, this song easily fits.
“Drag” – Day Wave
If the artist Day Wave had to go by one phrase, it would read: “I fucked up but I don’t really care.” It’s a quick beat with softly voiced lyrics, giving off the vibe where you want to dance along but also emotionally feed into what they’re saying. Day Wave’s latest track “Drag” is easily heavy on the sounds, and although the lyrics are quick, they’re so simple to catch on to. It’s repetitive without driving you crazy. And sure, it ends before you know it. But that’s all the more reason to play it over again and again and again.
“You Really Got A Hold On Me” – She & Him
Zooey Deschanel (She) and M Ward (Him) have seen individual success within their own careers, but together they turn out to be a surprisingly perfect duo. “You Really Got A Hold On Me” is one of the best examples of how these two artists compliment one another best as Ward’s voice echoes behind Deschanel’s elegant, classic sound so delicately. This song makes it easy to get swept away into a sway with someone you care for, and them swaying you right back. It’s meant to be her unhealthy yearning for him, and the lyrics go, “You treat me badly…I love you madly.” We’ve all been there…right?
With vocals as scratchy as sandpaper and an instrumental rock sound, Bootstraps are killing it with their soundtrack — their only soundtrack, to be exact.
Bootstraps are unique while maintaining a bit of what you’ve heard before. Lead singer Jordan Beckett’s voice is similar to Ray Lamontagne, while the overall sound resembles something along the lines of Coldplay. Explosions in the Sky’s strong yet delicate instrumentals play a part in the vibe this intimate band gives to their listeners.
Based in Los Angeles, Bootstraps’ admiration for California does not go unnoticed in their tracks. “OH CA” speaks for itself, while the rest of the jams have a majestic, passionate sound that carries you away to the oceans of Cali and the scenic roads that lead you there.
Personally, I’ve found Bootstraps to be a beautiful soundtrack for writing, reading and connecting deeply with your own emotions. (That’s right. ALL the feels.) My good friend Amanda with similar music taste commented on this newly discovered band and said, “I want to drink bourbon and sit and in a dark, rich, old bar while I listen to them.”
I couldn’t agree more.
My boyfriend pointed out that “their echo sounds like they are in the room next to you,” and although he wasn’t a fan of that, I absolutely was. If a band can prove to the listener that they sound that good in a live setting, then they are one hell of an artist, filled with the kind of talent that lacks a heavy amount tweaking.
Bootstraps made their mark in my book. Even though their songs remain at a mostly slow pace, I still find myself turning them on even at my happiest moments.
just that good.
If I could choose one album to listen to for a month straight (because, let’s be honest, the whole “rest of your life thing” is far too unrealistic), I would choose Repave by Volcano Choir.
A buddy of mine showed this album to be about eight months ago. He was going through some pretty tough stuff at the time, and he couldn’t get enough of this album filled with sorrow, power and beauty altogether. Repave consists of tracks that can almost make listeners feel as if it was written specifically for them, and I understood immediately why he was so drawn to it.
Justin Vernon (best known as Bon Iver) took a different turn with the Volcano Choir project, breaking away from the sound of his album For Emma, Forever Ago, and the more tranquil sound Bon Iver brings to the table. According to a Pitchfork interview, Volcano Choir is supposed to be “fun.” This concept immediately causes me to smile, because as deep and emotional a man Vernon is in comparison to his previous work, it just makes sense.
Although I said I would choose to listen to this album for an entire month straight, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be going through a tough time in your life to enjoy it. It’s beautiful in an elegant way, when the (sound) waves crashing into shots of orchestrated sounds that rise up as the track time elapses. Their album cover of a rocky ocean simply speaks for itself. Although it isn’t clear whether or not the dark skies symbolize before or after a storm, I personally imagine it as both. These songs begin with slow rhythms, delicate strummed guitars and a light tapping on the drums. Some even begin with a voice alone. But at some point, it escalates. It kicks your ass, emotionally. And just like the worst things we may face in life, the storm ends. And it slowly, but gracefully, falls.
Whether you’re a Bon Iver fan or not, this album is nothing like what you’d expect, yet, everything you’d expect. Play it over and over again. Face your storm. And rock the fuck out when you do.
Even if you weren’t around for Mick Jagger when he became a Rock & Roll legend, or to hear Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower” at Woodstock Music Festival, you still most likely know about it. The '60s and '70s were two of the most influential music decades of all time — a time we still appreciate this many years later, and will continue to during the years to come.Much of my appreciation for music today comes from what I’ve heard from the past. (Thank you, Mom and Dad.) Knowing where you are often relies on knowing where you came from — a totally cheesy saying that is completely relevant to the development of music as much as your own life.
John Mayer’s biggest influence was Blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Kings of Leon was inspired by Neil Young, CCR and The Allman Brothers Band. Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) was fascinated with the lyrics of Bob Dylan, believing his voice paired as a good sound with his words.
Almost every great artist can root back to what inspires them, and sometimes we overlook that little detail which makes them our favorite contemporary musician.
This playlist is filled with just a handful of my favorite artists I wish I could travel back in time to see with my own eyeballs. But cranking up the volume extra loud and dancing in my kitchen will have to do for now.Led Zeppelin because Robert Plant is the man. And for crying out loud, why NOT?
Pink Floyd because everyone needs a little dose of psychedelic. Or a lot of it.
The Rolling Stones because Mick Jagger has been kicking ass since he was 15 years old.
Creedence Clearwater Revival because you may have seen the rain, but who will stop it?
Elton John because he’s my favorite human being that ever lived. “Tiny Dancer” makes me want to be Penny Lane from Almost Famous, singing my heart out on a bus with a band and their groupies. (But that’s just me).
Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers because they’re the perfect blend of driving in the summer and smoking weed in your basement.
*Notice there are no Beatles on here. Sure, they began the “British Invasion” after breaking into the U.S. music scene in 1963, causing one of the wildest movements in music history. However, they get enough credit almost everywhere else and don’t necessarily fit into the Rock & Roll I’ve chosen for this playlist.
Everyone gets hooked on a handful of songs they can’t seem to skip over during a period of time. Well, these are mine from the month of July.
“Crystals” – Of Monsters and Men
This song kicks complete butt. The heavy drum intro leads into the crashing of symbol waves throughout the entire track, while lead singer Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdottir’s voice carries the powerful lyrics along the melody. This entire album is unique to their previous style, developing lyrics on a more honest and open level. Seriously, listen for yourself.
“Red Eyes” – The War On Drugs
This retro Indie Rock band from Philly wraps their beat around modern-meets-’80s music, especially their on this, their most popular jam. The impeccable beat is bob-your-head worthy, in addition to the powerful voice of the longhaired lead singer Adam Granduciel. Such a cool dude.
If you’re taking a long drive through the night with flickering highway lights passing your cracked windows and a chill in the air blowing through ever so slightly, you’ll easily feel like you’re racing back through time. It rocks so hard you’ll find it hard to skip.
“Soul Is Fire” – Elliot Root
I dare you to play this at your desk and try not to tap your foot (I tried, and it’s pretty impossible). Scott Krueger’s upbeat and unique voice is enough to turn any song into a party, especially this particular jam. It’s catchy, it builds and it’s just plain fun. Elliot Root got their own roots in the heart of Nashville, Tenn., but they’re not what you’d expect from the South. Give them a listen and dance around with your shoes off. It won’t be hard.
“Delilah” – Florence + The Machine
Delilah” is one of Florence + The Machine’s many singles sung by the beyond-badass Florence Welch and those incredible pipes of hers. This single, and two others that were released prior, are now featured on their latest album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. The entire album just continues to follow up with Welch’s tough-as-nails attitude and lyrics, giving women the sense of ability and power they should all possess. Not to mention it makes you want to dance.
“Wolves” – Phosphorescent
remember 2013’s “Song for Zula,” right? Turns out Phosphorescent has other
hidden gems, and I choose to listen to this gentle tune before I close my eyes
for the night. It’s simple, genuine and repetitive in a way that doesn’t feel that way. The unique use of a
ukulele as a long introduction pieced together with a soft, electric guitar and
the thick sounds of an accordion subtly enter into the center of the song.
Matthew Houck’s sad and sincere voice has that “cabin in the woods” vibe to it,
similar to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.
It’s overall a beautiful piece, even if it took me this long to discover
Anyone with an adventurous bone in their body naturally loves road trips. It’s the quickest way to embrace your passion for exploration by simply hopping into your vehicle and hitting the road filled with destinations and opportunities. And what’s the ultimate source of entertainment during your long trip? Music.
I took a different approach while selecting these particular artists/songs. Playlists don’t always have a major theme to them. It’s not always necessary, and road trips are the best time for these types (or non-types) of soundtracks. As quickly as the double yellow line flickers along the street below, sometimes, so does your mood. There’s the beginning and the end of the drive when you’re nothing less than sitting out of the edge of your seat, the mid-drive mood when you need a bit of a change-up, and the nighttime (my absolute favorite part) when you’re chugging your gas station coffee, munching on beef jerky and letting the jams take you away — father than your car ever will.
This playlist meets all these moments in a road trip. Just by looking at it, it’s like I reached my hand into a pot full of weirdness and grabbed whatever I could. In reality, I selected these babies for a reason.
There were a ton of artists I considered putting on here. Candidates included Mumford & Sons, Hozier, John Mayer, and those other mainstream, super-duper talented artists we already love. Instead of giving you something you already know, I wanted to introduce you guys to some folks that may be potentially new to your music library. There’s no better time to indulge yourself in new music than driving in a car for hours, watching your view from the window change in the blink of an eye.
It’s totally OK to have it all. Ya dig? Now grab your keys and get going.
There’s a lot to celebrate this year, folks. After Supreme Court officially legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the feeling of freedom is especially felt in the LGBTQ community and the rest of those filled with joy for all the love in this ever-changing country. On June 25, history was made. And as July 4 approaches, it’s only acceptable to get a little crazy. We wouldn’t be Americans if we didn’t.
Whatever your plans are, you can’t forget your Fourth of July essentials: fireworks, beer, picnic grub and music. GOOD music. Although our speakers will mostly be filled with the classics by Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty (nothing wrong with that), this doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice the contemporary jams we love so much for one day.
Check out and hang out to this modern, Mellencamp-free playlist for your day of kicking back and celebrating all the perks of being a damn proud American.
My Morning Jacket
My favorite band of all time. Be sure to avoid their album Circuital, though. (Too deep/spacey for the Fourth). I went with anything from Z, It Still Moves and Evil Urges, where their experimentation outside of their Rock-meets-Country roots stays at a minimum.
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
The collaboration between these two artists seems to work in the best way possible, especially because it perks our buddy Ryan Adams up a bit. Still following through with his Alternative Country vibes, Adams’ voice we all know and love is given a more upbeat tempo to jam along to while you drink your beer in the grass.
Trampled by Turtles
Bluegrass and Folk with a crazy-ass banjo blended with that old violin sound. If Old Crow Medicine Show and Avett Brothers had a baby, this is it. They can go fast, they can go slow. Whatever your preference, it’s all Folk all the time.
As many films as “The Underdog” has been featured in, I still imagine it working in a Sandlot soundtrack. Doesn’t exist, but I can’t help but envision Smalls hitting that Babe Ruth ball when it comes on. If you can wrap your brain around that the same way I do, you’d understand why the rest of Spoon had to be on this playlist. Play ball!
These guys immediately make me want to take off my shoes, run through the grass and jump into a creek. That’s why I can only listen to them in the summer. (Kidding, but you get the idea.) Their Folky, earthy tunes are ideal for the Fourth. Hopefully you’re near a creek!
The Flaming Lips
Ridiculously weird with the best intentions. This holiday can get weird, so embrace it and throw these guys on there. Less Folky than the other stuff, but it still works. I promise.
People totally underestimate these guys. I saw them live last summer, dancing around stage in their fedoras and denim flannels like the happiest people on the fucking planet. Singing songs about their hometown in South Carolina and this sweet, sweet country we live it — how could you not put these songs on your list?
Have a great weekend, folks. ‘MURICA.
Since the forecast for this upcoming weekend screams “absolutely sucky,” instead of fighting it, go ahead and embrace the rain. Whether you’re allowing yourself some “me” time to sink into your own thoughts or are keeping your favorite human close to your side, slide your ass back into bed, pour yourself some tea and put on these slower, deeper jams, old and new. (You know, when you’re done binging on Netflix).
"Think of England" – Bear’s Den
“Do you lie back and think of England?” Maybe, maybe not. But the concept is there. Whether it’s a place or a person from your past, this song is dedicated to a memory that questions if it’s been forgotten or not. Many of us experience this “letting go of the past” feeling in our lives, and Indie Folk trio Bear’s Den’s does it well through such heartfelt poetry.
"Holocene" – Bon Iver
The immediate peace behind Justin Vernon’s voice paired with the tranquil melody that takes you out of this world and beyond is enough. It’s just enough. As much of Bon Iver’s music is based off of a pain or time of love and loss, this particular song is wrapped around the beauty given by earth and embracing the parts of life that are greater than you’ll ever be. (Little tip: I recommend watching the video. Absolutely worth it).
"Love You" – For Against
The wonderful thing about instrumentals is that they can be interpreted any way you like and let them take you wherever you want to go. It’s pretty awesome. It causes listeners to get more caught up in the title rather than the assigned lyrics, leaving an open canvas for their most creative thoughts to tell a story. For Against uses distinct rhythms and their Post-Punk/Dream Pop sound to allow you to capture a story throughout each of their tracks.
"Come Back to Bed" – John Mayer
If I’m being honest, in my wildest dreams, if John Mayer told me to come back to bed I’m sure as hell going to do it. Whether you’re embracing the emptiness or wishing your person were by your side, this song is a calling to bring you back into your sheets and leaving the bad things behind. John is a major necessity to any rainy day soundtrack, and this particular track is a strong winner.
"Jolene" – Ray Lamontagne
I don’t care who you are or what genre you prefer, everyone admires this beaut. Ray Lamontagne’s rough-meets-earthy voice is exactly what anyone needs on the slowest of days. It’s sad, yes, but a wise man once told me, “The sad ones cause you to feel the most.” Sometimes we need that, especially while the dreary rain pours outside our windows. And Ray is the king of that.
"Song For Zula" – Ronnie Fauss
This acoustic remake is simply remarkable. I first heard it in one of my music-loving friend’s cars, driving home late from a Hozier concert, and I was hooked. I wanted to crawl under the sheets and sleep the weekend off, drifting away to this sweet lullaby dedicated to a lover. If you enjoy the original, this version will tug just as strongly at your heartstrings.
"Dye" – Tycho
Another instrumental, another story. This one with a more Techno-feel and a beat you’ll feel. It reminds me of a club at 2 a.m. in complete slow motion. Weird, I know. But like I said, it’s all about where your creative mind takes you. This artist especially is creative and unique enough in itself to get the ball rolling in your mind. So while you’re lying there watching the day pass by, let your thoughts drift to this song, this artist, and this album.
"More Streets" – zpiderflower
This instrumental is a bit darker feeling than the rest with its deep, electric strings flicking one after the other and its low and steady beat remaining consistent throughout the entire track. This song was made for sleep. It was made to hide out from the nasty weather while still accepting it’s among you. These guys aren’t likely to come across often, so grab on and give them a chance while it’s still raining outside. You’ll grow for them more now than ever.
"Georgia" – Vance Joy
I LOVE this song. I love the verses more than the actual chorus, and that’s totally OK with me. It’s sweet and pretty and talks of love in such an elegant way. Vance Joy describes a woman as electric and strong, with a weight of love that’s worth it all. Sure, we all are familiar with Joy’s ever-so-popular song "Riptide," but in reality his other work is equally as incredible. You can’t help but think of the person you love most when you hear this tune.
"Comrade" – Volcano Choir
You bet your ass I put Justin Vernon on twice. As used as this phrase is, I can’t help but best describe Volcano Choir as Bon Iver “on steroids.” Its electric twist is strong, loud and powerful, while keeping its simplistic/natural style and sounds in the works. The entire Repave album is worth giving a listen, however, if you’re adding to a mellow playlist, I pick "Comrade."
On Wednesday, June 10, The War On Drugs performed live at the Madison Theatre in Covington, Ky. They slowly becoming one of my favorite artists in just a few short months, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to catch these guys while they were in town, just minutes from my city.
This American Indie Rock band from Philly began back in 2003 after Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel met at a party. (Alcohol really does bring people together for more than just a one-night stand). Finally calling themselves The War On Drugs in 2005, the rest became history.
The disparate crowd in the Madison Theatre grew silent as Vile stepped onto the stage of smoke with his back turned away from us. The intro music patiently slipped through the fingers of the players, giving the crowd enough time to psych themselves up before Vile slowly circled, sending his voice through the microphone. I’d like to think goosebumps were contagious in that moment.
The show kicked off with “Burning” from their album Lost in the Dream, an album that needed and deserved an entire concert time. They dove into each song random and out of order, just the way concerts should be. They even chose to throw their most popular track “Red Eyes” into the middle of the show — something we as music-lovers are unfamiliar with, subconsciously expecting the ordinary concept of “saving the best for last” (or in some cases, the most popular). Instead, it kept the crowd on their toes. It kept us wondering … what’s next?
My personal favorite didn’t come on until sixth to last. Waiting for “In Reverse” kept my anticipation high throughout the entire show, leaving me thoughtless and speechless and I swayed and felt more than what can be felt from listening through ear-buds.
The overall energy of the room was exactly what you’d expect it to be. The drifting rhythms and synthesized sounds of the acoustics was enough to send anyone into a parallel universe — a place I found myself throughout the show as I clung tightly to my beer with one hand and my friend’s arm with the other. "Lost in the Dream" truly says it all.
Vire’s communication with the audience was scarce, but with such strong lyrics that symbolize love, isolation and depression, it became more about speaking through the music. Instead of having to explain why a particular song was written or what is was about, it is left up to the listener to decide. It was all about interpretation.
A handful of songs from various other albums were chosen and thrown in the very beginning, as well as the encore before closing out with “Suffering,” also from Lost in the Dream. It was a slow closer (also uncommon) as if it was meant to easily transition people back down from concert to reality.
As a surprise during the encore of the show, we were treated to The National drummer Bryan Devendorf stepping in and taking over. It’s safe to say the crowd went a little nuts in the best way possible.
Every inch of the album Lost in the Dream was just as beautiful live as it is right from your Spotify playlist. Whether you’re taking a drive far out in the distance or spending an hour on your bedroom floor with your feet up on the wall, this is the background sound you’re looking for. You’ll be back for seconds — I promise.