ARTIST: Volcano Choir
Justin Vernon's work ethic is nothing if not commendable. In between Bon Iver albums/EPs and hype, he has released a full-length with his Jagjaguwar labelmates under the guise of GAYNGS; A Midwestern take on soft-rock, Vernon's input was largely vocal, and the album featured his nebulous songwriting talents alongside two dozen other songwriters and musicians. Then there were Vernon's numerous cameos on Kanye West's Yeezus, continuing the a fan-fictional pipe-dream. Vernon's contributions to Yeezy's latest were slurred, high-pitched, and served as an ersatz for Kanye's self-confessed poor singing voice, and the lyrical content was nothing like Bon Iver. That is not to say that Yeezus had a Midwestern vibe to it, but the fact that Justin Vernon has sung a duet with Chief Keef over a pulsing guitar solo in 2013 is fucking incredible in some kind of capacity.
Volcano Choir marks a welcome departure from the Vernon repertoire, but one that ultimately fits soundly within the Jagjaguwar canon. Gone are the acoustic warblings and auto-tuned experiments of the Blood Bank EP and 2011's Bon Iver. Focusing on vocals and song-writing while members of Collections of Colonies of Bees handle the instrumentation, Vernon's vocal range is deeper than ever: at times a silky baritone, at times a Springsteen-like balladic roar. The songwriting and lyrical content remain as cryptic as ever - dotted with Midwestern trivia obscura - but set against lush synth-lines and driving percussion, the lyrics ride shotgun while Vernon the vocalist, and more importantly, Volcano Choir the band take center-stage.
That being said, the band rely a little too heavily on the formula of their compositions; all of the tracks on Repave build from soft instrumental roots, swelling to chants often underwhelmed by the band's subtly lush compositions. Had some of these tracks been a little longer, or certain samples and effects left on the cutting room floor, many of these ideas could have hit with more accuracy. And there are the occasional hiccups, exemplified by the vocoder on "Comrade"; an awkward handling of a tried and true tool. But the will to experiment is rewarded on tracks like "Alaskans" and "Almanac," where the balance is found and toed with grace.
"Well, were off and definitely stumbling/Tossin’ off your compliments/Sexing all your Parliaments"