For the last few weeks I’ve seen posters all over the tube picturing a deep blue wave, crashing against an invisible shore. In simple white text the words ‘Repave: Volcano Choir’ and a small gathering of choice one line reviews. Having never heard of them, and loving their minimalist indie looking poster, I finally gave in and picked up the album.
They’re a really interesting band, the result of a collaboration between Justin Vernon – lead singer/songwriter of Bon Iver, and several members and ex-members of American Indie/Minimalist band Collections of Colonies of Bees.
Justin Vernon is an interesting character in himself. Though he’s primarily known as the front man of Bon Iver, he’s actually a member of four different bands. Bon Iver gained fame as haunting tracks like ‘Skinny Love’ achieved huge radio play and triggered a host of covers. Rumour has it that Justin has run out of inspiration for the Bon Iver project, and it’s seeming likely that their latest album may be their last.
…their latest album may be their last…
Meanwhile Collections of Colonies of Bees have released three full length albums, which have achieved rave reviews and collector status, but not reached the heady mainstream success of Bon Iver. The music produced by the Bees is a combination of bluegrass instruments and modern computer based processes. Lyrics are sparse, and experimentation key to the bands sound.
The combination of Justin Vernon and Collections of Colonies of Bees creates a deeply interesting sound. Justin’s minimal and haunting vocals are laid across the Bees layered and building sound. It’s a formula that works. Their album Repave is full of tracks with resonant sounds and strong lyrics.
A favourite trackof mine is “Byegone”. It opens with a stripped back piano and string sound, joined by crashing guitar at the thirty second mark. Over a minute into the track Justin’s voice makes an entrance with lyrics urging “Set Sail, hon you pretty competent”. The lyrics are refreshingly strong and intelligently written on this album. Vernon famously locked himself in a cabin for three months to write the heartbroken and lost lyrics on his “For Emma, Forever Ago” album, so it’s refreshing to hear him sing on topics other than loss and heartbreak.
While songs like ‘Skinny Love’ have an anthemic quality to them, with repeated rhymes and simple strong lines to them, “Repave” has a much more complex sound. The lyrics are more abstract, and the word choices far less traditional. It’s an interesting listen, and takes repeated listens to fully appreciate the sentiments. Lyrics like: “You said that we could go back, said that we could go find, terra forming!” demand attention, and consideration.
…The lyrics are in places abstract…
The album is a sonic treat, with long instrumental sections and sudden building percussion and guitar sections. The range of instruments and effects is both impressive and unusual. It manages to be experimental and instrumental led without feeling tedious or indulgent. The lyrics are in places abstract, or deliberately emotive, without being pretentiously inaccessible.
It’s an album to listen to when you have the time and energy to dedicate to it, rather than consign to backing music. Different elements come to life as you listen to the album more. While not every track is perfect, the album is a great listen and brilliant example of collaboration at it’s best. Both Vernon and the Bees sounds are clearly audible within the album. Neither artist has forgone their style, but combination of styles creates something different and more than worthy of several listens. If Vernon really is done with Bon Iver, let’s hope there’s more to come from Volcano Choir.