Wisconsin-based Volcano Choir took to the stages of Madison and Milwaukee this weekend, presenting their newest album, “Repave.” A band whose whole is not as well known as the people within it, the group is made up of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Collections of Colonies of Bees.
“Repave” is their second album after “Unmap,” which was released in 2009, coincidentally when Bon Iver grew in popularity with their self-titled album. As explained by members of the band, “Unmap” was created over a few years with people sending each other snippets of sounds that they would compile into an album of soundscapes.
“Repave,” on the other hand, was created with a different approach where the band put together ideas more as a group, holed up in a cabin—seeing a theme, Bon Iver fans?—experimented, innovated and made an album that’s arguably more filled out and fully orchestrated than “Unmap.” Some listeners have even commented that it has a similar flavor as a Bon Iver album.
Volcano Choir played the entirety of “Repave” at their Madison concert, a few tunes from “Unmap” and two songs not yet released. Both of these new tunes had a twinge of rock, with faster, driving beats and bold, anthem-like melodies.
“Repave” makes use of soundscapes created by prerecorded compositions, synthesizer, Vernon’s characteristic falsetto voice, thick harmonies and single note drones. The album cover is an image of waves and the album as a whole fits this image, often growing from nothing to overwhelming chords and pounding beats that fade to a hum or buzz.
The opening tune, “Tiderays,” sounds like someone waking up with rays of sun peeking through a curtain as single notes fan out, over the opening buzz. It slowly picks up speed and increases the number of singers so that by the climax it is truly a choir sound. The second track, “Acetate,” has a dainty, happy introduction and then breaks into an edgy beat behind Vernon’s non-falsetto voice.
“Comrade” is next, displaying one of the more rock tunes on the album. It begins with an open space of multiple voices freely playing their own ideas until a strong beat is laid down. These “free form” moments are interspersed throughout the tune between the declarative choruses.
Vernon describes the song “Alaskans” as the one that clicked first and set the tone for the album. A mixture of acoustic guitar sounds, synthesized drones, and harmonized vocals, it stands out with its chorus of repetitious words, escalating higher and higher until it fades to only a guitar line.
At their concert, they ended with a powerful performance of their iconic song “Still,” hearkening back to “Unmap.” As an encore, they performed “Repave”’s final song, “Almanac,” which has strong minimalist elements of repetitious rhythms in the synthesizer and a loop recording of Vernon’s voice. It then wove its way into Unmap’s final song “Youlogy,” with a folk-sounding melody sung by Vernon as a fitting conclusion to the show.
The future of Vernon’s Bon Iver is uncertain, but for fans of the group, check out Volcano Choir. The members of this group have been musical collaborators with each other for a long time and you can hear that in the way they play together and experiment with sounds. Not to mention, it’s always fun to see what new bands are emerging from the woods of Wisconsin.