’s album cover takes me back to a different place and time. More specifically, early April-- I was watching the ocean unfold, an endless blanket of blue. The waves were either clashing against each other or working in harmony, existing in some kind of vexing relationship with the moon. As my friend and I relaxed on the beachfront, as the pigeons above our heads flew north, everything fell into some kind of discernible rhythm-- nature itself, unfurled in front of us. We were spectators to it all, and there was no need for anything more. The simple act of watching the world through our personal lenses was more than enough.
Volcano Choir know how it goes to be passengers, especially considering they’ve been observing the indie scene for awhile now. If nothing else, their debut Unmap
set the stage for greatness, creating basic blueprints of indie-folk to attract an eager audience. But the group’s main draw is Justin Vernon, the singer who once viewed the indie scene with binoculars in one hand and an infiltration scheme in the other. Now he’s playing with the big boys, landing guest spots on Yeezus
and dropping death metal vocal lines on Colin Stetson’s latest record. So after all this time in the shadows, Vernon has leapt into the spotlight again with Volcano Choir, and to mark the occasion, they’re leaving behind an album that has no problem standing on its own two feet.
is the sound of friends camping out in the woods, of an album penned within the claws of nature herself. Volcano Choir sprinkle studio magic into the record to give it a fantastical glimmer-- Vernon himself benefits from this, especially in the boxy reverb his voice provides in “Alaskans”. But even with production tricks in tow, this record is every bit as natural as the images it suggests. As the bonfire coughs and crackles smoke into the air, and the members of Volcano Choir strum guitar and crack jokes, the campsite evolves from a mere physical location to a meeting ground for comrades. The stuttering guitar leads, Vernon’s fluttering falsettos and earthy percussion bring the listeners even closer to the campfire, to the point where they can smell the embers. It’s music that could’ve been crafted in a backyard, but also has the brawn to be recreated in a festival setting. Similarly to Vernon’s masterstroke For Emma, Forever Ago
, this record speaks to throngs of people just as personally as it does to a single listener. But what makes Repave
different is that it’s the result of multiple creative minds at work, and that synergy is what makes the record so invigorating.
This is a Justin Vernon who steps into the picture, contributes his parts, then heads home for the day. He isn’t tethered to the construction of this record like he was with Bon Iver’s-- and the net benefit is evident in how immense the man’s voice sounds. In “Keel”, the most rousing performance of Vernon’s career, the frontman shows a breadth of emotions with what sounds like second-nature to him, but it isn’t just that-- the track’s lyrics are utterly haunting. When Justin Vernon sings “The Prophet’s here,” his lyrics sound more important than ever before. But Volcano Choir backs him up with spine-chilling drone and broken guitar patters, making the track as huge as it wants to be. Yes, these men are the same boys that released Unmap
four years ago-- but they’re making music for you and me now.