Saturday, September 28, 2013

Album Review: Volcano Choir - Repave

Album Rating: B+
As much as I want to believe that I know a lot about modern music, it seems like every other week a new band that I should have heard about years ago finds a way to pop up on my all-too limited radar that, somehow, has always completely overlooked it. I didn’t know about Grizzly Bear until two years ago, and January was the first time I ever heard of Local Natives, which is almost direct proof that I do, indeed, live in a dark, isolated cave in the middle of the rainforest. This week, my newest missed hype explosion is Wisconsin's Volcano Choir, who have been around since the mid-2000s, racked up significant critical acclaim, and have direct ties to Bon Iver, all completely without my knowing. Regardless of why or why not I haven’t heard of this widely known and respected act, though, I had the interesting privilege of experiencing the band’s newest release, Repave, with a blank slate. I had no preconceived notions of sound, no desire for an adherence to their old conventions, and the only whiff of context onto which I could feasibly latch was the fact that the band was probably pretty good since they’ve sold so many records with Justin Vernon at the helm—albeit, in secrecy to me. So I grabbed a chair and my headphones, set up outside on a beautiful day, and introduced myself to Volcano Choir to see what I’d been missing.

Immediately, I was drawn into the beautiful, melodic acoustic finger picking that functions as the backbone for much of the music on Repave. I’ve always been a sucker for Owen’s complex plucking on his albums, so the first introductory notes of “Tiderays” resonated with me quickly. This opening track is also a good representation of the crescendos and dynamic changes that characterize a majority of the record's songs. Cuts like “Comrade” and “Byegone” both begin with delicately restrained verses before exploding into giant, arena rock choruses, which are just begging for a crowd of thousands to be singing along. In the latter, the band’s collective shouting of “Set sail” mimics this setting perfectly, and ultimately, becomes one of the more memorable, euphoric sections on the album.

While the loud, thunderous drums and huge choruses are certainly a highlight, the dreamier sections leading into these big moments are just as strong, and some tend to even have more lasting value. Subdued track at the halfway point, “Alaskans,” has come to be one of my favorites on the entire album, with Vernon’s light, wispy falsetto climbing great heights on the register before slowly drifting back down to its starting point. It’s the first track on Repave to forgo a huge dynamic shift, and the dreamy reverb layered onto Vernon’s voice creates an interesting effect of distance, contrasting well with the track’s up-close-and-personal feel. “Keel” takes an intriguing turn as well by offering an almost drone-like composition, where many of Repave’s previously established songwriting conventions are thrown out the window in favor of a more introspective atmosphere of variable noise.

I suppose you could technically label Volcano Choir as a side project, since it hasn’t quite reached the heights of many of the musicians’ ongoing acts, but doing that would rhetorically dismiss much of the talent that went into creating Repave. If Justin Vernon had never made a huge splash with his previous band, Volcano Choir would still definitely rise to the top of the crowded indie community, which speaks to the band’s potential to match its members’ predecessors and become more than just a mere time-waster. At the same time, though, a cursory glance at the often scatterbrained lyrics, with references to keif and having sexual relations with the Parliament building, could suggest that, perhaps, Vernon’s other project could be just that—something fun to do on the side. Whatever the true intentions, I can’t deny the strength of Repave, and its ability to keep me interested throughout multiple listens certainly elevates it above the title of a simple side project. There are many that claim Vernon can do no wrong, and Repave easily keeps that impressive streak alive.


1. Tiderays
2. Acetate
3. Comrade
4. Byegone
5. Alaskans
6. Dancepack
7. Keel
8. Almanac

No comments:

Post a Comment