Review Summary: Shout it. Sing it louder now.
After a string of dates with Volcano Choir in Japan, Justin Vernon made an interesting confession. In a recent documentary for their latest offering Repave, he said “I just felt like I was in a rock band for the first time.” Coming together mostly through email on the group’s debut Unmap
, the group’s front man and figure-head was still riding the wave of success he’d received for the now legendary For Emma
and commercially successful self-titled Bon Iver record. When receiving a Grammy for that record, he stated that “It’s hard for me to accept this award,” and “When I started making music I did it for the inherent reward of making songs.” Vernon’s discomfort seems admirable for a musician at his level. With Repave, Vernon seeks to reaffirm that he can overcome any expectation. The question is, does he succeed?
While their debut was more known for an experimental brand of post rock with little cohesion, Volcano Choir fires on all cylinders here, creating music that begins with a whimper and eventually crescendos into bombastic vistas. Each piece flows with unique textures across a barren landscape of sound. Whereas Bon Iver delivered the sound of a more independent Justin Vernon project, Volcano Choir sounds like a collective of musicians. Each song is crafted with atmosphere and texture particularly in mind. Vernon’s voice is a perfect fit for the atmosphere these musicians aim to achieve, showcasing a more bombastic sound that rivals “Perth” on Bon Iver
. His soulful croons and haunting lyrics continue to captivate the listener. Lead single “Bygone” displays uplifting guitar melodies with a dramatic chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Arcade Fire record. Vernon’s lyrics are personal, singing about smoking kief, setting sail, and a Twin Peaks reference to the “knights of the northern lodges.” “Comrade” is a fun track with a funky groove over an electronic loop and a chantable chorus that begs the listener to sing along as they listen to the album in their vehicle on a long drive home. “Dancepack” is a throwback to the folk sensibilities of Bon Iver and ends on the powerful line, “Take note, there’s still a hole in your heart.”
“Alaskans” provides the sound that Vernon said best thematically describes the whole record, containing lyrics that grant the album its title. “It’s knowing that you have to change if you're having a tough time in your life or you're just hitting walls constantly. Or you keep having bold spiritual questions that you can't answer. It's usually because there isn't a path for you. You’re not on that path." Repave is, at its core, Vernon’s metaphor for what is possible. The next stepping stone in his musical evolution. He has gone on record to say he may never release another record under Bon Iver. If this is the next wave he decides to ride, I wouldn’t mind one bit.