Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: album reviews, Bon Iver, Collections of Colonies of Bees, DeYardmond Edison, Kaki King, Releases of the Week, Steve Reich, Volcano Choir
PREVIEW: DOWNLOAD Volcano Choir’s “Island, IS” MP3
WE GIVE IT: 15/20 Watts
Building off the momentum of Bon Iver’s critically-acclaimed 2008 release, For Emma, Forever Ago , Justin Vernon is now releasing the product of his collaboration with fellow Wisconsinites, Collections of Colonies of Bees. The indie supergroup, dubbed Volcano Choir, stemmed from an informal collaboration between the two sides, but was eventually realized to be something much greater than they originally anticipated.
When Vernon met Collections of Colonies of Bees, it was on tour during his stint as the leader of the Eau-Claire-based instrumental group DeYardmond Edison in 2005. Since then, the two sides had been sending each other ideas over the internet and taking turns fleshing out each others’ concepts. CoCoB’s Jim Schoenecker explains in his interview with the Milkwaukee Decider, “It wasn’t this conscious, ‘Hey, we’re going to start this band together, and here’s the material we’re going to work on.’ It was all very loose.”
What began as a mere back and forth interpretation of the two sides’ ideas slowly took form as the musical sketches settled into actual songs. The product, entitled Unmap, is one of the year’s most significant minimalist endeavors.
The album thrives on the ambiguity inspired by Vernon’s minimalist use of vocals (which, might I add, you can rarely understand). As the album moves through tracks such as “Husks and Shells” and “Youlogy,” it takes on a very liquid, and often ominous tone. However, the playful intertwining of Vernon’s crooning, and often-choral vocals, plus their Kaki King-esque guitar plunking, never let you lose sight of the true beauty in the songwriting.
The lack of structure suggested by the ambient and often acoustic soundscapes is shattered, however, by tracks such as “Island, IS” and “Still,” which take on the forms of Reich-inspired minimalist jams. It’s on these cuts that Volcano Choir is at its best. They take the pulsing, rhythmic concepts that are the base of all minimalist music, and use them to reach impassioned, distorted, but never forced crescendos (see the end of “Still”). The movement from order to chaos in both the structure of the songs and the album as a whole make the experience all the more meaningful.