Monday, 9 September 2013

Review: Volcano Choir, Repave

In 2009, during the climb of Justin Vernon’s fame, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the formation of Volcano Choir.  Collections of Colonies of Bees just seemed too post-rock to be a good fit with Justin Vernon’s distinctive somber tone!  Then, when Unmap was released, it seemed like those premonitions had come full circle.  The album just didn’t seem all there, and we soon found out why.

Different aspects of the album had been recorded and then sent via email to be compiled.  Does that sound like the making of a Grammy award-winning album? Don’t think so.  There were a few gems, like “Island, IS” and “Seeplymouth”.  But honestly, it sounded like the musical equivalent of writing your dissertation the night before!  The skill was there, but what they needed was a deadline-less period of writing and collaborating.  They needed to figure out how COCOB’s post-rock sound would work without over-shadowing Vernon’s breathy, dreamlike vocals.  They needed to create something natural.  They needed to treat Unmap, as a musical folly and develop!

So that’s what they did.

Repave is the combination of the COCOB and Justin Vernon that we were all hoping for 4 years ago.  Vernon’s distinctive voice is in your face (in the best way possible) and COCOB has a very welcome influence.

The opening track “Tiderays” is a perfect power ballad.  The structure is very similar to “Perth” from Bon Iver, Bon Iver; they both begin with soft yet powerful guitar, which then melds into strong, civil war sounding drums.

“Acetate” is my most listened to song off Repave.  It’s a fantastic song with the perfect flow for endless replays.  In fact, it seems to show a new openness to Vernon, in comparison to his previous work with Bon Iver.  Continuing with the war theme, it leads smoothly into “Comrade”.   This song has a very full arrangement, which is ideal for Vernon’s voice.

The clear single off the album is “Byegone”; it’s a modern folk song for the masses.  “Alaskans” is full of peacefulness and sweetness and provides uplifting lyrics with calming acoustic guitar.  It’s so well composed and a highlight of the album.  Suddenly, the album catches you off guard with a darker twist in “Dancepack”.  Everything is just a little off with this song, rhythmically and vocally.  Suddenly, an album full of uplifting and calming lyrics changes to the sarcastic repetition of “Take note, there’s still a hole in your heart”!

Finally, “Almanac” completes the album with a myriad of synth and guitar harmonies synonymous the to waves that the album strives to create (judging by the cover).  I don’t know how Vernon does this, but each sentence sounds and feels like an inhibited scream!  It’s awesome.

The lyrics throughout this album are unsurprisingly ambiguous.  I’m all for ambiguous lyrics, but Vernon has been known to produce lyrics that are downright ridiculous and don’t match up with the heavy, emotional tone of the instrumentals.  As the listener, this makes it seem like the lyricist is just messing with you and it’s irritating at times.  Regardless, the lyrics generally seem to hint towards the idea of moving forward and not letting previous difficulties hold you back.  In a word, repaving.

This is a difficult album to come to a conclusion on.  I really enjoy listening to it, but not because it’s new and exciting.  I enjoy it because aside from a few aspects, it’s essentially another Bon Iver album.  So on the one hand, it’s a great album.  On the other, it’s nothing new.

Check out: "Acetate" and "Byegone".

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