Album Review: Volcano Choir, 'Repave'

by Barb Abney

The cover of Volcano Choir's new album, <i>Repave</i>.
The cover of Volcano Choir's new album, Repave. (© 2013 Jagjaguwar.)

 
Traditionally, when I review CDs, they are from artists that I adore. Traditionally, they are selections that I cannnot wait to listen to in my car at volumes that shake the windows. Traditionally, I listen for driving intros, a throbbing beat and easily discernible lyrics. This week's CD of the week, Repave, the sophomore release from Volcano Choir, is a refreshing break from my own traditions.

While I enjoyed Volcano Choir's debut, Unmap, I've felt their music was overshadowed by the work of Bon Iver — and Justin Vernon, specifically. I'd like to think I've paid my respect to the altar of Justin Vernon. I just don't regularly worship there.

In the "Making of Repave" video, Vernon says that Collections of Colonies of Bees changed the way he listened to music. With this release, Volcano Choir have changed the way I listen to music.

If you listen to this CD exclusively in your car, you're missing the experience of intimacy you can only get when listening through surround-sound headphones. You'll find yourself enveloped in a swarm of lush, structured soundscapes, strings, percussion, vocal harmonies and mystery. This is simply the most layered piece of music I've ever spent time with. I found myself listening more attentively to try and figure out the lyrics or to follow a musical thread of mystery like, "Was that sound through the entire song?" or "Is that some kind of Mongolian throat singing, keyboard, piano, guitar or a didgeridoo?"

Some say that this part of the country spends nine months in winter mode. I can't wait to load this one into my MP3 player and feel the crunch of fallen leaves — and later, snowfall — underfoot as I walk along the Minnehaha Creek in South Minneapolis listening to it.

Repave begins with "Tiderays," which often had me checking to see if I'd accidentally started the Afghan Whigs' song, "Crime Scene Part One," because the side-one, track-ones of both albums begin in a very similar manner. As it opens, "Tiderays" builds and feels like the wind-up before casting wide on a fishing line of sound.

You know those girls in broomstick skirts and floral headpieces that you see dancing around in a trance-like manner? I can honestly say "I get it!" now as "Acetate" and "Comrade" syncopate and swirl and compel you to do the same. Musical tension and crescendos build and crash like waves in "Byegone," and "Alaskans" sounds like how the lace-effect of the sun shining through an ice-encrusted window looks: cold, yet light and hopeful. "Dancepack" is an inhalation of brisk air.

Repave's closing track, "Almanac," would have been called "new wave" 30 years ago. In 2013, it's a vintage-synth DREAM with peaks of fist pumping à la Judd Nelson in Breakfast Club.

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