Crank the Treble: Volcano Choir

Volcano Choir - Unmap

Here’s my review for Unmap, the debut album from Volcano Choir, which was originally published over at Treble (where it includes, as all Treble reviews do, a short list of similar albums).

In 2007, and more extensively throughout 2008 following its wider release on Jagjaguwar and 4AD, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was received fairly consistently as a triumph of intimate and powerful bedroom-folk. And rightfully so. The solo debut of former DeYarmond Edison member Justin Vernon was simply stunning; its music fragile and rich, his outpouring of emotion refreshingly genuine. Since then, Vernon has graced the tracklist of one of the best compilations of 2009 and released an excellent follow-up EP, both of which have no doubt helped to satisfy that inevitable impatience for more Bon Iver works. So, for those still jonesin’, the debut of his new band Volcano Choir comes not a moment too soon.

A collaboration with fellow Wisconsinites Collections of Colonies of Bees, who Vernon refers to as his “favorite band”, the sparse and affecting Unmap unfolds as a meditative, experimental tapestry of slow, dramatic crescendos, calculated repetition, obtuse guitar work, and haunting, layered vocals. Unlike Bon Iver, lyrical content for Volcano Choir plays a decidedly secondary role. Vernon appears to be more concerned with the basic sounds and choral-like elements of the vocal work here, as much of it is entirely wordless or conceived as emotive stream-of-consciousness. This collection of songs, which dates back to 2005, both precedes and traverses across a greater stylistic expanse than For Emma, Forever Ago. Album opener “Husks and Shells” feels like the most familiar composition on Unmap, but is none the weaker for it. Spliced and looped acoustic guitar cuts patiently drone while Vernon’s tortured falsetto provides various vocal fragments, some soar, others tremble and dwindle. However, the more experimental bent of Volcano Choir doesn’t fully reveal itself until “Island, IS”. The core of this exploration of Terry Riley-recalling minimalism lies in its layers of pulsating loops that bend the album’s pensive melancholy into a vibrant wall of sound. The vocals are still intoned as tenderly as one has come to expect, but remain partially masked and obscured by effects and Vernon’s hushed delivery. From here they try their hand at slow-building ambience (“Dote”), off-kilter, Dirty Projectors-like meanderings (“And Gather”, “Cool Knowledge”), bleak Billy Holiday croons (“Mbira in the Morass”), and dark, brooding spirituals (“Youlogy”).

Though these compositions predate Bon Iver, they oddly enough seem relatable to Justin Vernon’s solo experimentations on this year’s Blood Bank EP. It appears that he was aware of this fact as well, as Unmap’s penultimate track “Still” adopts the auto-tuned acappella of “Woods” and supplies a surging crescendo of guitar loops, humming drones, metered drum work, and sporadic percussive rattles. These works speak well to Vernon’s current trajectory. He could have easily attempted to craft more music in the mold of For Emma, Forever Ago, which would have most likely pleased a good chunk of his newfound fanbase. Instead, his most recent works as Bon Iver and, more dramatically, with Volcano Choir, have pushed ahead into increasingly eccentric territory. This move may alienate a few, but it’s also sure to help win over some Bon Iver skeptics and bestow some much-deserved attention to Collections of Colonies with Bees. Here’s hoping Unmap isn’t just a one-off.

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Download: Volcano Choir – Island, IS
Buy: Pick up Unmap from Jagjaguwar as a CD, LP, or MP3s.

Girls: Album Stream


Although there’s a whole bunch of albums coming out on Sept. 22nd that are worth getting excited about, the debut from San Francisco’s Girls is one of the particularly noteworthy. A band fixated on simplicity — a point driven home by their name, record title (Album), and their music itself — Girls make the most of very little. Reportedly recorded in “rehearsal spaces” with “broken equipment” on reel-to-reel tape machines and an old computer that had a tendency to crash and lose data, Album is an imperfect, emotionally resonant batch of warm and depressive guitar-centered indie pop. And a couple days ago True Panther Sounds and Matador Records made it available to stream, in full, via Soundcloud. Give it a listen down below and fall in love like so many have already.

Girls are about to embark on an extensive European tour next week, but will return for some U.S. shows in November. Peep the domestic dates after the jump (you can view the European dates over at their myspace page).

Download: Girls – Lust for Life
Download: Girls – Hellhole Ratrace
Buy: You can pre-order Album from the Matador Records webstore as CD, LP, MP3, or FLAC. Also, if you enter the promo code “girls” at checkout you get 15% off.

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If I Had a Heart, I Could Love You

Fever Ray: When I Grow Up

Somehow over the course of 2009 I’ve failed to give any mention to Fever Ray, the solo project of Karin Dreijer Andersson from brother-and-sister electronic duo The Knife. Already a potent contributor to the flourishing electronica scene in Gothenburg, Sweden, Andersson’s most recent effort wades into an ominous world of darkness, witchcraft, and death. Not unlike her work with The Knife, the debut record from Fever Ray approaches music as a kind of audiovisual experience, envisioning imagery and concepts that extend beyond the realm of sound. From the live show to the series of music videos that continue to be released, it’s obvious that the album ultimately feels most complete with some sort of accompanying vision.

Of course it helps that, so far, the images released have been compelling — particularly those of the first two music videos, “If I Had a Heart” and “When I Grow Up”. While the former unsettles through slowly unfolding dread, “When I Grow Up” strikes with a more playful creepiness, featuring a mysterious, fragile-looking (and poppin’ and lockin’) witchdoctor creature that works her magic on a backyard pool. Watch both down below and check out the other videos, for the also excellent tracks “Triangle Walks” and “Seven”, after the jump.

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Download: Fever Ray – If I Had a Heart

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Download: Fever Ray – When I Grow Up
Buy: Pick up Fever Ray on vinyl or CD from Insound.

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Dirty Projectors: Live on Letterman

Watch Dirty Projectors drop the soaring, off-kilter “Cannibal Resource” from this year’s excellent Bitte Orca on last night’s unsuspecting Letterman audience up above. Equal parts transcendent harmony, relentless guitar intricacy, and bizarro Longstreth-drawl, they keep the song impressively tight — as they do with all their songs live. Be sure to check them out on their upcoming fall tour (dates after the jump), it’s a pretty breathtaking experience.

Also keep an eye out for the Temecula Sunrise EP, which will be released via Domino on September 28th. Beyond the title-track, the EP will also feature “Cannibal Resource” and two non-album tracks from the Bitte Orca recording sessions (“Ascending Melody”, “Emblem of the World”).

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Download: Dirty Projectors – Cannibal Resource
Buy: Order Bitte Orca, an album not to be missed in 2009, from the Domino Records webstore as CD, LP, or cassette. For mp3s, visit their digital download section.

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