More explosive than 2009’s Unmap, this second album from the combined Collections and Colonies of Bees and Justin Vernon takes the machine-like intricacy of instrumental post rock, the airy spirituality of Bon Iver into a more forceful direction.
Like the National, Volcano Choir drapes its indie rock anthemry over unusually sharp and interesting drumming. Here’s its Jon Mueller, an intense and brilliant percussionist, one of the few drummers able, really, to carry a solo album. In Repave, Mueller seems to have moved slightly forward in the mix, not dominating, certainly, but putting his mark on nearly every track. Most of these tracks start in restraint, a drone and vibration building, a few beautifully realized sounds sketching mood and melody, a thread of vocals…and then explosion. Mueller is the force behind these volume shifts, an exhilarating push into overdrive.
“Byegone” is, perhaps the best of these tracks, a vibrating tension built in from the beginning, the release implied in the upward lilt of guitars. Vernon keeps the lid on through the first verse, murmuring lyrics about doors wide open and legends against a steady pulse of piano, but the crescendo is foreshadowed all over the place. It’s feels inevitable when the song blows up in a chorus of “Set sail”, but also genuinely exciting. In the same way, “Comrade” may start in a pensive tangle of guitar notes, an abstract, interlocked percussion, a float of falsetto, but it seems destined almost from the beginning to take off into euphoria. Even when they’re quiet, these songs have a latent triumph in them.
On paper, it’s hard to see how Volcano Choir could succeed at merging the proggy complexities and instrumental prowess of a band like Collections of Colonies of Bees with the emotive, indie rock pleasures of Justin Vernon’s work. But on Repave, anthemry turns intricate and complications soar. It’s a balance of brainy introspection and communal joy – hard to do but easy to listen to.
DOWNLOAD: “Byegone” “Comrade”