Although the six piece tries to avoid the focus on it you can’t really talk about VOLCANO CHOIR without mentioning their lead singer Justin Vernon especially. No wonder, since the band’s new album Repave marks the first musical output by the man who’s alter ego BON IVER went from a little folk phenomenon to something much bigger two years ago. The longplayer Bon Iver, Bon Iver received worldwide love, Grammys and made Vernon’s main band almost bigger than he ever wanted it to be. So, in the end, probably exhausted from being BON IVER, Vernon made the great decision to reactivate his side-project, a collaboration with postrock-band COLLECTION OF COLONIES OF BEES.
Repave is the sophomore album by the unlikely alliance but it’s the first one they actually recorded as a band. Their 2009 debut Unmap was more of a trial and error thing. Recorded via mail and file exchange it was a way for all musicians to discover new territory. Repave brings the influence of both worlds together again, resulting in something of its own. It’s neither a folk album nor a post-rock record. Both parties met in the middle and created a record that stands for itself. Repave is a highly emotional construct of tender folk, epic indie-rock moments and post-rock spirit. And that’s basically where Vernon and his fellow-band members actually meet. In the eye of the emotional storm. Imagine a BON IVER record with the big movie-scope sound of a post-rock band. That’s not entirely what you get but it hints a direction.
The opener Tideray opens with soft organ pads and a gentle acoustic guitar before we warmly welcome the wonderful voice of Vernon. It soon evolves into something bigger, including a big finale. The intimate start in combination with an epic final part is something that happens quite often on these eight tracks. Acetate and Bygone are two more examples. The song Comrade even includes the comeback of the infamous BON IVER auto-tune-voice at the end. These epic song constructs of VVOLCANO CHOIR are quite fitting to the image of the anxious sea on the cover of the record. The songs are wild in their emotional fragility. Alaskans is one of outstanding highlights on Repave as it is quite silent and reduced. Very basic and without the usual build-up. It reduces the aspect of the band to its basics, giving Vernon’s voice space to be the guiding light in this dark scenario. Same goes for the song Keel. VOLCANO CHOIR might touch you most when they keep it reduced but they work best when they break loose – especially in the epic album closer Almanac.
In the end Vernon’s Grammy-buzz is the best that could have happened to VOLCANO CHOIR. Otherwise this little masterpiece might have gotten lost under the sea of new releases and overlooked in a crowd of many other bands that take similar musical paths as this alliance. Repave is not another masterpiece and no, it’s of course no follow-up to Bon Iver, Bon Iver. It was never meant that way. If you listen to it without prejudice and context you get an enjoyable, emotional and quite coherent musical journey. It’s your turn under which circumstances you’ll start the trip.
Stream the entire album now over at NPR.org.