In the world of pop culture at least, October is ending with more treats than tricks. Just a week after Devo released a 50-year anthology and The Rolling Stones (Hackney Diamonds) and Duff McKagan (Lighthouse) dropped new albums (the latter featuring Iggy Pop), this weekend sees the arrivals of Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls Super Deluxe Box Set and new albums by Duran Duran, Taylor Swift, and Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. More on them in a minute, but let’s begin with something truly special.
Nashville-based Volk, a 2-person behemoth that spits more sonic dragon fire than most 5-8 member arena acts, continues their prolific roll with “Pop Song”, the A-side to a 2-track 7-inch (b/w “Swinger’s Ball”) to be released by Watch it Burn Records on November 10th. It’s the second official single from their upcoming sophomore album, On the Other Hand, You Have Five Fingers, which is due next year. In between debuting one of my all-time favorite songs, “Honey Bee” a few years ago, and topping my 2021 Best Albums List with Cashville, the band has crisscrossed the country several times on tour while dropping some stellar one-off singles, an EP, and a live album.
“Pop Song” is another holdover from the pandemic era. Guitarist/vocalist Christopher Lowe conjured up the monster riff and immediately knew he wrote a pop song, though his original stab at the lyrics took the song in a much darker, more satirical dimension. Drummer/lead vocalist Eleot Reich took a polish to the lyrics and buffed up the melody to land the song where we have it today, in their own words, “a Benatar-inspired, call-to-action banger, transfused with the Angus Young-riffage and a Townshend, phaser/synth driven breakdown.”
“Our engineer/co producer John Pedigo (Old 97’s, Joshua Ray Walker) really helped flesh out some stadium level rock tones and deliveries,” Lowe told us. “Joshua Flemming of the Vandoliers gave us that iconic scream at the intro and some glorious harmonies in the chorus. On top of that, Christopher Tait, synth player for the world’s greatest party band, (and Volk’s recurring touring partner) Electric Six, added some other worldly bleeps and bloops.”
“‘Pop Song’ is quite plainly the song you quit your job to,” Reich adds. “We dare you to, at the very least, call in sick, go for a joyride, and CRANK this tune.”
The video returns to the well George Michael first tapped for his supermodel drenched classic, “Freedom”, pairing the band with gorgeous models and couture fashion straight outta New York Fashion Week. “Music video director extraordinaire and oft VOLK collaborator, Patrick Pierson, approached us about making a music video/fashion collection hybrid along with our good friend, Minneapolis-based fashion designer, Dr. Zwack (Megan Zwack),” Reich says. “She and Patrick had used an older song of ours for her Buffalo Collection featured on the FNL Network last year.”
Dr. Zwack’s newest collection is called “Dr. Love,” and as it references the KISS class. “It’s a couture collection all silk and leather,” Zwack said. “The animals and symbols in the collection are leather appliqué. They come to me in dreamstate and I infuse them in the collection. That also goes for the prints and colors used. It’s a shamanic process and I always integrate nature and nature prints.”
Shot at the PNA Hall in Minneapolis on a single day in August, “Pop Song” was a huge, elaborate production getting all the video crew, models, make up team, and VOLK in one place to film a fashion show and band performance, complete with breathtaking drone shots. “This was a challenging piece to make as it had to function both as a music video for the band and a fashion piece for the designer,” said Pierson. “In the end we just rolled with it and let the two creative styles complement each other. My influences on this video range across the board from Baz Luhrmann, David Lynch and even a bit of Dario Argento. I feel like their work lets their freak flag fly and that’s exactly what this video needed.”
It’s been a while since I talked to the band, after a blistering 2021 set in downtown Seattle, and still I kinda only had one burning question…
POPDOSE: If there is any pop cultural justice in the world, VOLK will soon be headlining arenas. But now, you’re in the phase of your career where diehard fans will someday brag, “I saw them when….”. How is it going out there on the road in terms of winning over new audiences, seeing the nation, and putting miles on the car?
CHRIS: Thank you for the kind words! I personally don’t really need arenas (massive stages just mean more running around like a madman :P) If we could get our name out there to the extent of being able to fill up approx. 500 cap rooms and live primarily off our art so we can come home and focus exclusively on making more cool art… now that would be the chef’s kiss.
ELEOT: If you could tell me five years ago what I’m up to now with my band, I’d say I was “living the dream.” It’s not perfect, and it’s certainly far from pretty, but it involves making music, fostering community, and seeing the world. I don’t have many notes and I don’t take what we do for granted. I really hope these new tunes help people feel more alive!
And now, for the rest of the weekend’s big releases…
Prince and the New Power Generation • Diamonds and Pearls (Super Deluxe Edition)
Much like a baby giraffe taking its first steps, the Prince Estate has been steadily finding its legs in terms of cataloging and leveraging the vast Vault of audio and visual material His Royal Badness left behind. The delayed 30th Anniversary edition, 3 disc of Purple Rain seems downright anemic compared to the expansive sets that followed for 1999 and Sign ‘O’ the Times. But those titles were all issued by Warner Brothers, Prince’s original label that now only retains rights to titles anchored to movies (Parade, Batman, and Graffiti Bridge, and perhaps The Undertaker and The Sacrifice of Victor).
Until now, Sony has mainly been filling record store shelves with re-releases of out of print titles, no remastering, no bonus tracks, and in the case of Lovesexy, no long-overdue track breaks (which are available on select import editions). Today, the label makes its first play in the Prince Box Set Arena with a splashy expansion of his debut with the NPG. As with the previous reissues, The Official Prince Podcast, hosted by Andrea Swensson, provides a fully immersive companion experience to the liner notes and troves of bonus content found within the box. As with the others, Diamonds and Pearls is rich with a remastered proper album, official 7-inch and 12-inch mixes, b-sides, demos and vault tracks of the era, plus live performances. For me, Diamonds and Pearls marks the beginning of the end in terms of Prince as a vital creative force in recorded music; he remained a must-see concert performer until his very last days. After trailblazing a truly original sound with trusted collaborators, including The Revolution, Eric Leeds, Sheila E, and Clare Fischer, from here onward, Prince relied on proficient session musicians to do as they were told, meaning subsequent releases became more and more glossy, less and less original or urgent. This is the only album in his catalog to fully leverage the talents of Rosie Gaines (subject of this week’s Episode #3 of the Prince podcast). Sales performance of this set will be the bat in the cave in terms of predicting revenue potential for the 50 or so box sets that remain in the vault. As I certainly don’t have 100 years left to await every other year releases, I’ll keep coveting each one as perhaps the last I’ll ever hear.
Duran Duran • Dance Macabre
We’re now more than a decade into the second Duranissance; the band’s sequel imperial era ushered in by the Mark Ronson-produced All You Need is Now. Paper Gods and Future Past each delivered the goods, as good as DD’s first three albums. So, will this Halloween-themed collection of originals and covers be another Notorious or another Thank You? So far, the singles released to date bode well for its prospects, including an ace cover of Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” featuring original Fab Fiver Andy Taylor, himself in stabilized health and coming off a great new solo album, Man is a Wolf to Man.
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark • Bauhaus Staircase
Everything you would ever want to know about this album, and more, is revealed in David Medsker’s fabulous POPDOSE interview with OMD’s co-founder and frontman Andy McCluskey. Like Duran Duran, OMD is in a second imperial phase, with this album being the 4th of a series that rivals the artistry, edge, and synth pop perfection of their early work. For a truly immersive experience, plunge for the 2CD deluxe edition + a bonus CD single featuring another b-side and some remixes.
Taylor Swift • 1989 (Taylor’s Version) Target Exclusive Editions
Why stop at ONE copy of TayTay’s latest when you can have four? That’s the gambit Target is offering with a stack of special alternate covers. As with the rest of the titles in this series, Swizzle never disappoints with invigorating remakes and re-imaginings of her hits and deep cuts, plus debuts of several “from the vault” compositions. Prince always lamented that his label(s) couldn’t keep up with the pace he wanted to release music, hence the massive vault he left behind. Swifty has proven there is a flood-resistant market for quality product. Sure, no titles this decade moved anywhere near the units her imperial era albums shifted, but she more than makes up for it in concert and movie ticket sales, merchandise and more. Taylor, the US Economy thanks you.
Trans-Canada Highwaymen • Explosive Hits Vol. #1
At first, there were the Highwaymen (Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, and Waylon Jennings), then came the Highwomen (Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, and Natalie Hemby), and now we have a supergroup from the Great White North: Moe Berg (the Pursuit of Happiness), Chris Murphy (Sloan), Craig Northey (Odds) and Steven Page (formerly Barenaked Ladies). This band had me with Page’s inclusion, as everylittle thing he’s done in his solo career has been magic. His latest, Excelsior!, landed high on my 2022 Best Albums List. This time around, this group covers AM-radio one hit wonders that were big in Canada in the 1970’s — hence their total homage to K-Tel in the packaging. So far the advance singles have been amazing — and the band is touring. We’ll see if my import CD, ordered direct from the band, makes it here in time for inclusion on this year’s best albums list, Stay tuned.