Justin Vernon Reteams With Old Friends On Expansive New Album

Monica Dore, Contributing Writer

As far as I can tell, everything that Justin Vernon touches turns to gold.

The front man of the Grammy-winning indie band Bon Iver has collaborated with everyone from the jazz band at Eau Claire Memorial High School to Kanye West. Volcano Choir, a collaboration between Vernon and Collections of Colonies of Bees, worked for the last two and a half years to construct their second album, “Repave,” which was released earlier this month.

“Repave” is different than other music I’ve heard from Vernon, especially when compared to Bon Iver’s debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago,” which was recorded by a heart-broken Vernon in the solitude of his Wisconsin cabin. This album is upbeat and has a more polished sound than Volcano Choir’s first, “Unmap.” The band members, all of whom are from Wisconsin, have known each other for many years, but have only been recording together for the last five or so. This is surprising, as the project sounds as if its members have been recording together for years. The sound is effortless and natural, and it’s apparent that the band had fun recording the album, which just might be what makes it so special.

The instrumentals, although never overtaking Vernon, play a larger role in this album than in those of Bon Iver. Songs start out quietly but the instrumentals build layers until the music swells and crashes, not unlike waves of the ocean on the album’s cover. In “Byegone” and “Acetate,” the two strongest tracks of the album, Vernon seems to be shouting against the drums and amplified guitars, straining to get his words out. The result is a powerful sound that is so satisfying to listen to.

Although I’m giving most of the credit to Vernon, “Repave” is more of a collaborative effort than the Bon Iver albums of the past. In those, Vernon definitely took the lead as both vocalist and composer. I’ve heard it said more than once that Justin Vernon is Bon Iver. However, in Volcano Choir, it’s obvious that the other five band members had a role in writing the music. In fact, Vernon didn’t have much of a hand in the writing of this album at all. Instead, Collections of Colonies of Bees took the lead. Daniel Spack, Thomas Wincek, Chris Rosenau, Jim Schoenecker and Jon Mueller wrote the bulk of the music for the album. The result is a sound more diverse than Volcano Choir’s “Unmap” and Bon Iver’s two albums.

Although tracks like “Acetate,” “Comrade” and “Byegone” supply the power to the album, each song has something different to bring to the amazing mix. Listen to the record in its entirety—it’s worth the forty minutes.

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