It’s been four years since the first Volcano Choir album, Unmap, provided a glimpse into the collaborative mindset between a singer and a band that inspired him. Ideas were minted, written at a distance and realized in the studio; edges sanded back and flaps tucked in, the craftsmanship of the endeavor bearing evidence of the craft itself, and the technology used to assemble it. Unmap strove to find strands of life between the ones and zeroes - a carefully constructive narrative that showed the listener through its darkest passages like a tour guide leading their wards through a cave, with nothing but a slack length of rope and the senses of sound and touch. Just as importantly, it brought these people together, setting an expectation: be your own band. Achieve transference. Learn how to play these songs in the live setting. Tour Japan. Do some dates in America. Pull the life from the record and share it with tiny segments of the world.Repave brings Volcano Choir into sharp focus. The glitch-laden, cautious presentation of the band’s previous work serves as points of both reference and departure across these eight songs, the product of growing conviction and trust, of a fully-operational rock band, gifted in shading and nuance, and rumbling with power. It’s the sound of the creative process as it evolves and ultimately explodes, the seamless interleaving of electronic and acoustic/amplified instruments, multithreaded with the timbre and technology of the human voice as it enters and exits the equation. Moreover, Repave is the sound of confident musicians extending their reach to anthemic peaks and pulling back to reveal moments of real vulnerability, sure enough of themselves to let them stand on their own.
If Repave reminds you of other kinds of records from the past decade or so, it’s done so on the bonds between the members of Volcano Choir, how their friendships were fortified over the years-long process of writing and recording these songs. There is an openness to this work that won’t be taken for granted – real, moving tales of change, sadness, loss and truth grace the wordplay of these tracks, an account of life between the fringes of poetry and reality. With each verse you can sense that someone, somewhere is listening to this music and getting stronger, feeling better, learning to open up their soul.
Volcano Choir is Jon Mueller, Chris Rosenau, Matthew Skemp, Daniel Spack, Justin Vernon and Thomas Wincek
Volcano Choir is an assembly of Wisconsinites Jon Mueller, Chris Rosenau, Jim Schoenecker, Daniel Spack, Justin Vernon, and Thomas Wincek. You might find these old friends also frequenting records and stages under different monikers, Collections of Colonies of Bees and Bon Iver. The collaboration predates the meteoric rise of Justin Vernon's Bon Iver project, with original songwriting dating back to the summer of 2005, right around the time the Bees first toured with Vernon's previous band DeYarmond Edison.
While entirely a studio record, the collection doesn't suffer from the overburdens of a digital pile up or over-thinking. Rather it breathes and convulses in equal measure, radiating an inherent dynamism found only in the voluntary bondage of intimacy. With influences ranging from David Sylvian and Steve Reich to Mahalia Jackson and Tom Waits, it might be more accurate to say the group's influence is music itself. You can hear it in the care and real love generously applied to each moment of Unmap. With the vibe of some intimate backwoods gospel, plus a spirit of patience and thoughtful repetition, the music of Volcano Choir is as dynamic as it is lovely.
Unmap ultimately came together over a weekend in November 2008 in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, at Justin and Nate Vernon's recording studio. And while it is at its heart a record about the allure of being with people you need and making something with them, it is also a document created by musicians with rare gifts getting together to exorcise their ideas about beauty. This scaffolding of loops and off grid tempos for choral style vocals offers a state of continual surprise, call it unexpectation.
Unmap marks the debut full-length from Volcano Choir, the collaboration between Collections of Colonies of Bees and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.