I recently returned from a three week holiday in Europe (I’ve always wanted to say that – three years ago I had never been on a plane), and I found Volcano Choir’s [MySpace] debut album stuffed between hundreds of Thrillist newsletters, Facebook notifications and “Fwd: fwd: fwd – this is sooo cute!” messages from my mother. It’s been a week or so and I’ve been dragging my feet hard on this review because, well, I’ll come right out and say it – I think that our fearless leader here at Radio Exile has intentionally assigned this to me, knowing FULL WELL my feelings on Bon Iver. You sly dog, you!
See, Volcano Choir is a collaboration that predates and includes my favorite mountain man, as well as a handful of Wisconsin folk from Collections of Colonies of Bees and Bon Iver.
Since the cool kids have calmed down and started growing pot bellies instead of beards, I figured it was time to give Bon Iver another go. They kept popping up on my iTunes Genius mix, (a bit presumptuous of the man behind the curtain), and as it turned out, Mr. Genius was able to slowly but surely sell me on For Emma… It started with “Skinny Love,” moved on to “Blindsided,” and then I actually purchased “Blood Bank” two days ago and have it running on repeat.
No, this is not a review about Bon Iver. But now that I accept, “get” and sort of enjoy Bon Iver, it helps me understand the Volcano Choir collaboration. Let’s discuss.
When I listened to VC’s first track, “Husks and Shells,” I instantly returned to one of my favorite stops on my above-mentioned holiday – the archeological site of Pompei. Without making any terrible puns or correlations to the band’s name, this song, along with several others on the album, would have provided the perfect soundtrack for wandering around the cobbled streets of this ancient town, frozen in time by the wrath of an ominous rupture. First impression is a quiet fascination, followed by a sense of haunting, the fragility of time and space, and an overwhelming notion of being the tiniest speck in the eyes of the world. Initially, this album also captures that.
The lyrics are tricky to understand – I’m not sure I’ve unscrambled any of what’s being said, and I don’t think I’m supposed to. The album has a somewhat of a paint-by-numbers feel, but in an “I’m going to mess up the number assignments, paint this horse blue and see what happens” way. And just when you think you’re hitting a groove, Volcano Choir changes the contours of the entire painting. They gently mess with electronics and loopings, so if you’re looking for that folksy ethereal swirl that is Bon Iver, you’ll only catch glimpses. The album sort of peters out through the middle, but ambles it’s way back with “Cool Knowledge” and “Still.”
Like I said, it would be a great soundtrack for Pompei. If you doubt me, you should probably use this as your excuse to visit Italy to see for yourself.