there are two readily-apparent ways to view repave: as a follow-up to volcano choir’s 2009 debut unmap or as a follow-up to bon iver’s grammy award-winning 2011 sophomore album bon iver, bon iver. for those devastated by justin vernon’s announcement last year that bon iver may be done for the foreseeable future, the latter of these two viewpoints may be the more favorable one to adopt. but after mere minutes of listening, it’s clear that repave functions as so much more than an extension of either of vernon’s two projects.
volcano choir, for those of you charting into somewhat unfamiliar waters, is a collaboration between vernon and collections of colonies of bees, a wisconsin post-rock band that has long been revered by the bon iver mastermind. the ensemble’s first effort, unmap, was an angular amalgamation of the distinct sounds brought in by the two camps; vernon’s voice was sweet and hesitant at times, just like on for emma, forever ago, and the instrumentation behind him was multi-faceted and full of left turns into unorthodox sonic pleasure. some people liked it and some people didn’t, but volcano choir remained relatively obscure its first time around, largely due to vernon’s swelling cult status amidst the indie blogosphere.
while the prefix in their debut’s title seemed to suggest an attempt to lure listeners into unknown territory, the prefix surrounding their second album seems to indicate a desire to reformulate their approach to connecting with their listeners. aided by the lush orchestrations and soft rock tendencies that permeated bon iver, bon iver, volcano choir dipped their pen into an ink vat of pop sensibility, resulting in a batch of truly accessible tunes. vernon’s lyrics are also more direct than anything he’s ever produced before. in an interview with pitchfork magazine, vernon likens standout track “acetate” as an antithesis of “skinny love,” citing its confident chorus as a way of saying “life is too short, and love is beautiful and it ends and there are much deeper and more complex things to be concerned about.”
the lead single, “byegone,” is about as bombastic as anything in volcano choir’s repertoire; its ascending, anthemic guitar riff mirrors the same stadium-ready sounds vernon explored on his sophomore effort as bon iver. but it’s the sharp contrast between songs and the evident importance of acoustic instruments that proves volcano choir aren’t a one-track minded ensemble trying to capitalize off of a member’s previous success. “keel” is one of the most beautiful tracks on repave, relying solely on droning acoustic guitar chords, soft piano stabs, and the occasional cymbal crescendo. the penultimate track gives way to “almanac,” the only song on the album that really approaches post-rock territory, and finds vernon alternating between his brooding baritone and his trademark falsetto.
with repave, volcano choir set out to create a project in higher profile that would inevitably be met by comparisons to its’ members’ other work. through deft exercises of songwriting, however, the band was able to touch on prior successes as reference points, foraging for new sounds and creating a separate identity. repave isn’t an extension of bon iver, bon iver; it’s not an obvious collaboration between collections of colonies of bees and justin vernon; it’s a very finely crafted album by a band called volcano choir.