Review Summary: Justin Vernon's in the empire business.
Before you scoff at the notion of comparing everyone's favorite middle-aged, meth cooking sociopath to everyone's favorite bearded, flannel-sporting, indie-folk virtuoso -- and it is
made with a certain frivolity to be sure -- just consider the sheer amount of work Justin Vernon gets involved with outside Bon Iver. From collaborations with Kanye West, to contributing vocals to The National, to forming entire record labels (e.g. Jagjaguwar and its offshoot, Chigliak), to even producing band's works off of Chigliak such as Amatuer Love's debut, it seems there are few remaining artists in the music scene Vernon hasn't pulled a Heisenberg on and insisted he's the one who knocks on doors (a metaphor for simply approaching other artists, I can only hope). Indeed, the "Sufjan of Soul," as he is affectionately called somewhere -- okay, now I'm just asking for it -- emerged from the woods of Wisconsin in 2008 with Bon Iver's masterpiece For Emma Forever Ago
, not to privatize Tunes From A Broken Heart, Inc., but to sell its stock because he had proverbially bigger drug lord turf wars to win.
It seems reasonable then to treat Volcano Choir as any of the other bands Vernon's spirit has manifested should be treated: as something to pay attention to -- and especially after Bon Iver's self-titled. Because unlike Volcano Choir's first effort, Unmap
, which existed before Bon Iver's return in 2011, Repave
shows an artist who isn't necessarily dragging around the success and expectations of For Emma...
; he's proven that Bon Iver can release a record with none of the mythos that surrounded the entity of For Emma
, and yet still pull it off, which is exactly what his self-titled did. The songs "Holocene" and "Towers" were Bon Iver's folk-side we've come to fall in love with since the debut, but what truly made self-titled such a worthy successor was its enormity. Whether it was the booming fuzz layered over guitar noodling on "Minnesota" while Vernon crooned "never gonna break, never gonna break, never gonna break," or the momentous 80s-esque ballad "Beth/Rest" exploding in their live shows, the self-titled was a work that didn't need an enchanting story behind it, and Repave
is simply the successful continuation of this. Because ultimately what we are given with Repave
is a non-Bon Iver album in which we don't care that it is a non-Bon Iver album -- and it's such a beautiful thing.
The opener "Tiderays" hums along with the delicate guitar picking and piano we've come to expect from a Bon Iver release as if continuing right where self-titled left off, and Vernon's vocals are as strong and confident as ever, exploring some of the lowest ranges of his voice yet. "Alaskans" is perhaps best defined as "warm" with Vernon's words echoing gently up and down until they fade out and what sounds like an audio recording of a preacher giving a sermon finishes the track. While these songs stand next to some of Vernon's best work on Bon Iver, however, it's with "Acetate" and "Byegone" that Vernon and his Volcano Choir soar. The two tracks both end with some of the most ambitious climaxes Vernon has ever led, truly making the enormity of sound on Bon Iver's self-titled seem like a hill compared to the sheer Everest that is scaled on Repave
Clocking in at slightly under 40 minutes, Repave
is extremely digestible, and I can only see its replay value going up as the little nuances and lyrics settle in. Furthermore, rather than being another Bon Iver album with a different name, Volcano Choir is a testament that even if Bon Iver's days are over -- and they are on hiatus currently -- we really need not worry. While perhaps lacking some of the soul and vitality of Bon Iver, which arguably is only really a prominent feature of For Emma...
, Volcano Choir is just as strong an effort, and from an artist who truly brightens the work of anyone he gets involved with.