Written by @_JakeWoolf
“Is that didgeridoo I hear?”
That's the first thought I had listening to the new Volcano Choir album, Repave, which came out yesterday. For those who don’t know what Volcano Choir is (I sure didn’t before hearing this album), it’s a side project for Bon Iver, sorry, I mean Justin Vernon, I mean, that dude singing “ShoodanoIwouldfo” on Kanye's “I’m In It.” Apparently, he and some other white dudes have gotten together (for the second time now) to record a full-length album. Their first album, Unmap, came out in 2009. I don’t plan on listening to it, though, for a couple of reasons. First, I heard it was all sorts of wild experimental and depressing and I’m not about to go down that road. (I’ve suffered through quite enough self-inflicted Elliott Smith for one lifetime, thank you very much.) And two, Reprave is so fucking good that I don’t need to listen to anything ever again. (Until next week when some new super-ignorant hip-hop comes out and I find myself jumping around my apartment yelling “Turn Up!” even though I already have it turned up to the loudest volume setting on my stereo. I live alone.)
Oh, right, back to the didgeridoo, or what I think is didgeridoo. Sorry, I’m not the world’s foremost expert on handcarved Australian instruments. But whatever it is, it’s super soothing when layered under the tasty little acoustic guitar riff they've got on there with it. Then Vernon’s legendary falsetto comes in on the opening track, titled “Tiderdays” (I figure that's a typo on the track listing, but I can't figure out whether it's supposed to be "Tidier Days" or "Tiger Days") and it doesn’t go away for the next 39 minutes. Which is great. Are people complaining about his voice nowadays? Is that the new thing? They're sick of his ethereal crooning? That’s straight nonsensical. That’s like if someone told Michael Jordan, in 1991, to stop dunking basketballs because he’s done it so many times and we were “tired of it.” Vernon’s voice is unique and beautiful and makes me feel all kinds of feels. I heard that in heaven they play Bon Iver’s For Emmaon a loop, so you better get used to that shit now.
"Are people complaining about his voice nowadays? Is that the new thing? They're sick of his ethereal crooning? That’s straight nonsensical."
The second song on Repave is called "Acetate," and it's a straight-up BANGER! It’s about as big and anthemic as anything Vernon has ever written. Man, the climax of this song! It's well, it's definitely very "climax-y," if you catch my drift. If I ever see dude in concert, he better wait to play this song til I'm good and six-beers-deep, so I won't realize what a fool I look like bobbing my head up and down and raising both fists in the air like Johnny Drama during the final chorus. Acetate is a chemical compound used in the production of plastic. I only know that because I like to buy expensive eyeglass frames. I’m not exactly sure what context they’re using it in here, although I bet you at least 80 percent of the dudes in this band wear expensive eyeglasses made out of acetate. Just saying. Like I said, this song is a banger and really gets your blood flowing before you move on to the more subdued “Comrade.” Which is about friends, specifically the friendship between the actual band members, which is apparently what all of the songs on the album are about. Which is kind of self-congratulatory, don’t you think? Whatever. Again, they get a pass because the song is just sooooo goooood. Plus Vernon drops words like “Semper Fi” in there, which sound manly and rugged, so hell yeah. There’s a dope-ass arpeggio during the chorus of this song and everyone is totally going for theirs on their respective instruments, and totally getting it, while Vernon nails the whole “emotional autotune” thing even better than Chief Keef does on “Citgo." Which, although you don’t know me, that is a big fucking compliment.
Through and through, these songs are just extremely controlled in terms of pacing and tone. They transport you to a different world, a freer world, one filled with purpose and passion. There’s moments where you’re all like, “Wow, I will take all of the weeds, please. I just wanna have a nap and wear sweatpants and pretend I do cool things like chop wood. But really I'm just thinking, Who wants a Doritos Locos taco?” Then, these big booming choruses come in and kick you in your lazy stoner's ass and tell you to get up and make something out of your life. It’s that juxtaposition that makes this album, in my opinion, a straight five-star, 10-pitchforks-out-of-10, 11-golden-dongs-out-of-11 or whatever, classic.
The true highlight of this glorious body of work come in the middle. It is a song called “Byegone." I’d be willing to bet a moderate sum of money that it will be played during a very important scene in the next very important independent film starring Paul Dano and some new, super-hot-but-mostly-because-of-her-personality hipster chick. A scene where they realize something about themselves and each other. This song is just... I don't even have the words to describe it. It’s just, game over. I literally didn’t need to hear a single other song after this song. Shit’s a wrap. Justin Vernon just high-fived the shit out of the universe and in return it kissed him right on the mouth.
"Justin Vernon just high-fived the shit out of the universe and in return it kissed him right on the mouth."
The come-down from “Byegone” to the next song, "Alaskans,” is what I imagine the hangover after a long night of whiskey-drinking and cocaine usage feels like, but a night during which something unmitigably magical happened. Like you were at your five-year high-school reunion and the hottest, most popular girl in your class (who is now a full-fledged, even-more-of-a-knockout woman) who never even looked at you when you were classmates, who never even knew your name, became, for some reason, smitten with your adult, now-slightly-more-confident witticisms and ended up bringing you back to her parents house where she was staying while her parents were away for the weekend and you got to have sex with her in the living room in front of the fire place. Like, yes: right now you kind of feel like shit, but remember how amazing last night was?! This is the best feeling-like-shit ever possible in the history of feeling like shit! “Alaskans” is also the only song upon which the title of the album is uttered, Vernon’s voice sliding up-and-down the scale, simultaneously sliding up-and-down my heart. I’m crying right now. So many tears. Because I am having so many feels. (I told you this would happen!)
In the end, Repave probably won’t get any type of the recognition it deserves, which I guess is why I’m writing this right now. Because come Grammys time next year, I’ll be all pissed-off and complaining about the bullshit winners and I will want to feel like I did my part to put on lesser-known artists. This album demonstrates that Justin Vernon is still the power center of indie rock, so get all the way out of here to infinity, Mumford & Sons. You suck.