Words About Music
Volcano Choir “Repave”
Justin Vernon was first thrust into the limelight of indie glory back in 2007, when Pitchfork called his independently released album “For Emma, Forever Ago,”—which was the first to be released under the Bon Iver band name—one of the best albums of that year. In 2008, “For Emma” was re-released and all the other blogs and big music reviewing entities caught on, and for the next few years, Justin Vernon would be on everyone’s mind. He won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2012 (even though Bon Iver had been buzzed about for five years) and he made several appearances on Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “Yeezus.” A little over a year after “For Emma” achieved its full potential in terms of indie buzz, his project Volcano Choir, which had been around for about two years before Bon Iver’s first album, released their debut album “Unmap” to critical acclaim. Bon Iver’s 2011 self-titled second album was the talk-of-the-town for that entire year, and Pitchfork called it the best album of that year, which I would disagree with, but that’s just me. And now, after putting Bon Iver on indefinite hiatus, Justin has returned to his Volcano Choir to record a followup to “Unmap” called “Repave,” an ambient post-rock indie-rock folk album of weirdness that feels a lot like a lost Bon Iver album.
When Justin Vernon made the decision to add tons of members and instruments to the Bon Iver project, it was met with mostly critical acclaim, although I always thought Vernon’s best projects were any song he did with Kanye and his “For Emma, Forever Ago” album. “For Emma” is solemn, exquisite, heartbreaking, and one of the most breathtaking albums of 2007 and 2008, depending on who you ask. So upon hearing Volcano Choir’s new album and thinking “Well this sounds almost exactly like that Bon Iver album I didn’t like” was sort of a letdown, especially after hearing Vernon’s excellent vocal contributions to some new Kanye songs like “Hold My Liquor” and “I’m In It.”
“Repave” finds Vernon’s vocals hitting pretty much the same places they always do. He’s known for his falsetto style, but if you ask me he sounds a lot better when he goes for the medium vocal register, with a few exceptions. “Repave” also finds some strange songwriting from Vernon, to the point where I’m not exactly sure what these tracks are about. This is a very consistent album, but it’s not a consistently great album. If anything, it feels like a run-of-the-mill Justin Vernon album, who’s big enough in the indie community (and the mainstream community as well) that there is such a thing. At its worst it even sounds like Chris Martin of Coldplay tried experimenting with boring ambient sounds for a solo album.
“Repave” is probably not the worst thing Justin Vernon has ever been a part of, and I must compliment the Collections of Colonies of Bees members who also make up this lineup for providing some pretty excellent and moody instrumentation underneath Vernon’s lush vocals. Otherwise, it’s average that borders on boring. I’m not totally on the fence about it because there were tracks on here that I liked. But from a guy who thinks that one of Justin Vernon’s best endeavors is that “SHOULDA KNOWN FROM THE STAAART” part in “I’m In It,” “Repave” is not really worthy of any further listening. If you enjoy Bon Iver’s experiments and sounds on their most recent album then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this album, but it’s going to take quite a bit more than that for Justin Vernon to impress this listener.
SCORE – 4.9
FAVORITE TRACKS – Acetate, Alaskans, Keel, Almanac