Wisconsin singer/songwriter Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame has kept busy for the past several years with not just Bon Iver but numerous other bands and collaborations. Of all the non-Bon Iver projects, the album that always stood out the most to me was Volcano Choir’s debut Unmap, an art-rock collective Vernon created with members of Wisconsin experimental rock band Collections of Colonies of Bees. The album was ambitious and more out-of-the-box then the Walden Pond/winter-cabin folk of Bon Iver, but was still centered in memorable pop hooks. The band’s followup, Repave, sees Volcano Choir reaching extraordinary heights, making atmospheric stadium rock that should be held up in the same regard as Vernon’s two dynamic Bon Iver records.
Repave vividly with “Tiderays”, which builds tension slowly and delicately, adding element upon element, till the marching snare drums, harmonizing vocals, and crashing guitars build towards the song’s final exhale. “Acetate” continues with the group vocals as the band shouts out about moving on and forward until reaching the final rallying cry of “Shout, say it louder now.”
The first three songs are essentially building the ship to set sail to “Byegone”, the album’s centerpiece that’s as epic as they come. As Austin talked about Friday, “Byegone” is arrestingly beautiful with all the crashes and swells hitting at just the right moment. “Byegone” definitely belongs in the conversation among the best songs of 2013.
“Alaskans” is the most clear-cut ballad on Repave, and shimmers like an impressionist painting, with the album’s title and central theme, “repave”, shimmering through the morning fog. “Dancepack” builds the album back up with a jig in its step, with Vernon calling out plainly “take note, there’s still a hole in your heart”, as to hope he isn’t the only one suffering from this broken relationship.
Unlike many other Vernon side projects, Vernon’s voice and guitar work is front and center on Repave and in that regards, there aren’t a lot of clear distinguishers between this and a Bon Iver record. Closer, “Almanac” contains many of the same elements as the material from Bon Iver’s Grammy-winning second album, full of shimmering guitar, dramatic builds, 80’s synth flourishes, and Vernon’s chilling falsetto. The song highlights many of the elements to love about Vernon’s music, which typifies why you should love this album: it’s quintessential Vernon.
Can’t Miss: “Byegone”, “Tiderays”, “Almanac”, “Acetate”
Can’t Hit: “Keel”