Music Reviews

Volcano Choir Unmap

(Jagjaguwar) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10

Great post-rock, generally speaking, gets made by snarky Scottish men, creepy Canadian ones or groups of effeminate Icelandic elves. Flannel clad Wisconsonites don’t come to mind often, if at all, until now. Justin Vernon, the only man in Bon Iver, has teamed up with instrumental outfit Collections of Colonies of Bees to make one of the most pleasing records of the year. It’s far from an easy listen but reveals itself wonderfully over all of its thirty five minutes and is consistently rewarding.

The album kicks of its tone of experimentation with the disjointed guitar lines on Husks and Shells. The song, like the rest of the record, is held together by Vernon’s eerie falsetto, pushed to areas never heard in Bon Iver. The focus here is not the lyrics; his vocals are the lead melodic instrument against a tapestry of light and rich textures. The instrumentalists are frequently willing to step back and let Vernon be the glue that holds them together. It's a very focused effort, no one is trying to steal the spotlight from anyone else. Its a band making music completely together, with nothing but creating a beautiful soundscape in mind.  The next two tracks, Seeplymouth and Island, IS continue the trend with egalitarian, equally mixed loopy guitars and a clear commitment to the song, not to themselves. 

Both tracks are full of unexpectedly great moments, a highlight of everything Vernon does. The rest of the album, with the exception of a slightly dull middle section, keeps the listener guessing and completely engaged no matter how serene and calm the music becomes. It’s a beautiful record, full of brilliant ideas and experimentations. Everything from the layered loops on Island, IS to the peaceful autotune on Still is exceptionally gorgeous. The high notes may take a while to find, but when you find them they’re among the best this year.  The influences here come from all over the board; I can hear traces of Sigur Ros, Tortoise and even T-Pain.

Some of the experimentations go awry and drag on too long (Mbira in the Morass), some aren’t developed enough and could have gone on a lot longer (the vocal-based Cool Knowledge, which takes some cues from doo-wop) but they all fit into their place and help the album flow perfectly. And when it closes with the eerie, smoky gospel influenced Youlagy, you know it’s fantastic and you know you’ve found the most breathtakingly beautiful album this year.