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Music Review: Volcano Choir – Unmap

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: anything Justin Vernon touches turns to gold.
Volcano Choir is the direct result of a collaborated group of brilliant artists including: Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Mueller, Chris Rosenau, Jim Schoenecker, Daniel Spack and Thomas Wincek (Collection of Colonies of Bees). As we are all very familiar by now with (Bon Iver, For Emma Forever Ago, yada yada…) Boy in a cabin, in the woods with a beard. Enough already, its time for Volcano Choir!

These boys are in every aspect of the word ‘brothers’. Each of them neighbors in their home state of Wisconsin, and as proved on Unmap, quite compatible with their musical stylings’. That is to say the boys of Collections Of Colonies of Bees are not unfamiliar to Justin Vernon. In the days prior to the “Skinny Love” explosion, the boys toured with Justin Vernon’s now retired band DeYarmond Edison in 2005. At which point song-writing for Unmap began to emulate, and boy aren’t we all glad that those pages didn’t get lost in the shuffle of all the Bon Iver madness. Upon listening to the first track released ("Island IS") from Unmap; I was turned over, and kicked on. In utter disbelief that Justin Vernon could possibly pull it off again, by that I mean; change the lives of thousands of unsuspecting folk/indie fans across the world.

I was left content and feverishly excited from “Island IS”, but also skeptical and curious as to what could possibly follow such an amazing song. When I received Unmap, it was something compared to a 3 year old girl on Christmas morning. In grave anticipation to what lies before me, devoid of all precarious wrapping, wondering if I got exactly what I had hoped for all these weeks. I couldn’t get to the play button fast enough, but something happened proceeding the leveling of my listening device. Something amazing, something daring; it’s as if everything I had expected was dumped in the waste basket, and I had to start my musical expectations entirely from scratch.

From track one all the way down to track nine, the first word I use to describe all things Volcano Choir is instrumentation. Ingenious and provocative uses of instruments flush their way through every single song, creating a new-wave symphony throughout the room. A sound I clearly was not anticipating nor’ did I prepare myself for. Almost leveled from my swivel chair before my computer, I made no hesitation as I made damn sure that repeat was the notion well understood by my media player.

I have been trying for days now to understand its prestige, to let Unmap’s power will its way into my musical soul. I have no reasoning behind it; it just is what it is. It is grandeur, innovative music at its best, and for that I archive this album on my shelf directly beside For Emma Forever Ago, the section that only composites the ‘best of the best’ albums.

Volcano Choir proves to be a well suited title, a choir in every solid right, harmonious and surreal. Justin Vernon’s voice can be heard as a backdrop to each song, like a road-trip has a soundtrack, Unmap has Justin Vernon’s vocals, in comparison to that of the falsetto used in the Bon Iver project; but with a twist. The collection of vocalists portrayed throughout the album is that of amazing elements. Rhythms and hymns to be found in the background and foreground of each song engulf around the electronica wave of classic musical equipment; making this album contemporary and as timeless as it should be perceived.

In order my favorite songs from the album are as follows; starting with track number one “Husks and Shells”, the setting of the entire album is wrapped entirely throughout this song. Slow, pulsated guitar pickings looped around the tenor lull of combined vocals, shadowed of course by Justin’s favorable falsetto. Little lyrics are produced throughout this song or the entire album for that matter. Which in most events would down-fall a project, but with this ensemble it seems to lead the way for an uncompromising promise of surprises in other departments.

Following up with the first released track “Island IS” song number three, placed well to up-beat interest as the album goes deeper. The majority of lyrics in the album can be found within this song, with a quick tempo and studio effects of pages turning. The back-woods gospel of vocals can be heard remarkably well within the breaks. Leaving the listener feeling as though they don’t know where they want to be, cold or warm? The song is relentless at letting you fall in love with it, but you may never know why.

Prior to collapsing all the way down to track number seven (my next favorite), I don’t wish to leave out the filling. Songs: “Dote”, “And Gather”, and “Mbira and the Morass” flood the album open with its brave aperture of these three songs. Conceiving a generous calming effect, all the while producing dynamic patterns and clashes of instruments; leaving you to believe this too was recorded in a cabin. Although studio-produced, the band leaves no aspects unturned as they wished to dumb down the digital pile-up that studio albums can often times accumulate. While a well recorded and produced filing occurs, you come to realize they put much thought into making sure the album did not come across as over-thought. I am thankful for the careful deliberation, as the album is perfectly proposed in each manner.

Proving that they’ve got their act together entirely #7 “Cool Knowledge” is pure bliss. A tiny song with a length only around one minute is just about all that is needed to bring emotions back up to a concentrated level. Looping around each other’s voices, and using Justin’s alto as the chorus line, “Cool Knowledge” is about as refreshing as its own name.

This leaves us, last but certainly not least on my favorite’s list song number eight “Still”.
Nearing seven minutes in length, I am beside myself that they put so much into it. At one point during this song I completely forgot I was listening to Unmap. If you are any bit familiar with Bon Iver, you know of the song “Woods” from his latest EP Blood Bank. A song so full of emotions, but always seemed to be lacking- like as if it wasn’t finished yet. Well, surprise, here it is broken apart and pieced back together containing firmer bass lines, and lot more of that banging stuff we all love to hear within Justin’s songs. “Woods” has matured into “Still” and by the end of the six minutes and fifty five seconds you are completely full.

The album in a way almost feels like the music they have created is giving something back; as if for giving gratitude to music. The properly named Volcano Choir is a eulogy to the love and creation of music entirely. Feeling the effort and passion they have put forth in the relationship to form this little piece of treasure, formally known as Unmap. It seems to make all the difference that the people giving us the music, are doing so from their own divine appreciation.

Unmap is released September 22, 2009, if you have any interest in incredible music, I usher you to make the purchase. You’ll be glad you did.

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