It was an incredible year for fans of Justin Vernon singing incomprehensibly over impossibly beautiful music. Despite putting Bon Iver on hold, Vernon performed with The National, produced a gospel album, and contributed vocals to the most talked about hip-hop album of the year. On top of all of this, he released a new album with Volcano Choir, his collaboration with experimental rock groups All Tiny Creatures and Collections of Colonies of Bees.
On their debut full-length, Unmap, Volcano Choir were exploring their potential while working out the kinks in their sound. “Still”, an ambient remix of Bon Iver’s “Woods”, provided a glimpse at the excellent chemistry of the group. The sextet’s sophomore LP, Repave, sees the band reaching their full potential.
The album’s experimental nature never feels forced, trite, or boring. “Tiderays” opens the album with a sleepy organ drone and a delicately picked acoustic guitar. The track then erupts into a crescendo scored with bouncing, panned guitars and an angelic auto-tuned chorus. The layered vocals on “Byegone” somehow manage to soar higher than the song’s anthemic guitars and the album’s midpoint,“Comrade”, showcases the band at their finest. The track’s glitchy synths, cavernous bass, and booming drums explode into a pitch-shifted serenade over cascading arpeggios. At times, it seems that Vernon’s lyrics are more about the conviction and emotion behind the words than what he’s actually saying. As enigmatic as lyrics like “the hobble of gawkers look across onto the road/there’s a taser” are, Vernon sings the hell out of them, leaving their interpretation to the listener.
Repave is ultimately an album about fresh starts and new beginnings. Album closer, “Almanac”, features Vernon’s falsetto drifting in and out over stuttering synths, extravagant post-rock drums, and disjointed acoustic guitar strums. All of these disparate elements come together with Vernon’s lyrics about shedding skin and dancing on footsteps to drive home the album’s uplifting theme.
With its quirky lyrics and arena-ready peaks, Repave is the easily the most fun “experimental, post-rock” album of 2013.