vancouver sleep clinic – winter

tim bettinson alludes to the album artwork of winter within the first lines of “collapse.”  he lingers on the phrase “and they’re all frozen over” ever so slightly before the understated electronic drums enter in the foreground, and then vancouver sleep clinic takes off.  it’s not as if we haven’t heard this song before; “collapse” has been floating around the internet since late last year and “vapour” has been around even longer, but both songs hold more significance within the context of the rest of the band’s debut ep.  it’s easy to pinpoint contemporary influences throughout winter, with bettinson’s falsetto evoking bon iver’s justin vernon and the sleep clinic’s instrumentation referencing minimalists like james blake, but there’s a stark sense that the trio is contributing to the advancement of this little ethereal niche, instead of merely emulating their heroes.

up until the release of winter, the songs offered up by vancouver sleep clinic had all been relegated to the realm of pop; “flaws” is a three-minute slice of downtempo goodness, complete with metaphoric heartbreakers like “tangled in the bones of this love/melding to the flow of your blood,” and “vapour” belongs in a hypothetical pantheon of dreamy, soft-rock perfection, but the rest of the ep tests boundaries on either side of radio-edit length.  “stakes” is the most expansive offering found on winter, with a false ending and subsequent coda that is almost majestic, complete with brass swells that complement bettinson’s laments.  the song is juxtaposed with “(aftermath),” a short, simple piano interlude that proves vancouver sleep clinic doesn’t only excel at extravagant.  closing number “rebirth” is an extended exercise in this simplistic practice, with acoustic guitar arpeggiations wandering off into the distance.

it shouldn’t matter that the three members of vancouver sleep clinic are only seventeen, but their age in comparison to the maturity of their music speaks volumes about the body of work they have created.  winter is a collection of songs that all complement one another, with no single track standing out ahead of the pack.  but that’s the way it’s supposed to be; bettinson waxes poetic about the basic emotions of adolescence in a way few others are capable of.  do yourself a favor and spend twenty-five minutes getting lost in the sounds of vancouver sleep clinic.

8.2/10

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listen to a new song from vancouver sleep clinic

on the heels of an impressive 2013 and in anticipation of their debut ep, the ethereal new zealanders known as vancouver sleep clinic have let another track go, and it’s gorgeous.  “flaws” is wrapped up in layered vocals and tim bettinson’s heartbreaking falsetto, but clearer timbres like acoustic piano and electric guitar sneak in through the ambient pads.  take a listen below, courtesy of the band’s soundcloud page.

listen to a new song from vancouver sleep clinic

tim bettinson’s intimate bedroom project vancouver sleep clinic first caught my attention back in july with “vapour,” an excellent stand-alone track that evoked self-admitted bon iver and james blake influences.  bettinson has since fleshed out the sleep clinic, adding a couple of members to make it a legitimate band, and recorded a debut ep, out early next year.  i’d rather not have to wait to hear the entire thing, but i’ll settle for the lead single for the time being.  “collapse” continues down the same path as vancouver sleep clinic’s original aesthetic, combining a vernon-esque falsetto with delicate synths.  stream it below, courtesy of the band’s soundcloud page.

volcano choir – repave

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.

8.1/10

listen to a new song from vancouver sleep clinic

it’s not very often that you find a band with a name that so accurately describes their intended aesthetic.  aside from the slight geographical misdirection (the sleep clinic is based out of brisbane, not vancouver), tim bettinson’s music functions just as you would expect.  he openly admits that his songs are catered towards fans of bon iver and james blake; i see the former much more than the latter in his new song “vapour.”

it’s airy and driven by a very similar falsetto and acoustic guitar tandem approach to the one that appeared on justin vernon’s first album, but “vapour” also retains some discernible electronic elements, perhaps creating a loophole for people who would be quick to write him off as another rustic cabin wannabe.  if it’s any consolation, i live in eau claire and think this song is worth a listen.  check it out below and see for yourself.

listen to a new song from volcano choir

volcano choir, the gorgeous bastard child of bon iver’s justin vernon and wisconsin post-rockers collections of colonies of bees, are set to release their sophomore album repave on september 3rd.  the band premiered the album’s lead single, “byegone,” on the current earlier this afternoon; now it’s available to hear online.  check it out below.