Justin Vernon doesn’t forget where he comes from. Earlier this year he sung with his old highschool jazz band, and now he is returning to this past musical endeavour. A collaboration with fellow Wisconsinites, Collections of Colonies of Bees, Volcano Choir’s origins predate his success under Bon Iver, having written material with them as tour-mates back in 2005. While it doesn’t reach the same cathartic heights as For Emma, Forever Ago, it proves itself certainly worthy of revisitation.
‘Husks and Shells’ is a conservative opener, not distancing itself immensely from For Emma material, but gently introducing the minimilistic, deconstructed strain that will colour the record. Second track, ‘Sleepymouth’, is reminiscent of early Broken Social Scene with its muddy, soothing texture, and it soon becomes apparent through his unintelligible syllables that this is not a lyrically focused project. ‘Island IS’ is the least willfully oblique song to be found here, all tribal rhythms and slick guitar, but the highlight is to be found in the playground chant of ‘And Gather’, cyclical organ figures redoubling on themselves with syncopated handclaps. Just after this carousel theme, the mood darkens for the claustrophobic ‘Mbira in the Morass’, taut strings and hammered keys suggesting he spent a little too much time in that famed log cabin. This tense atmosphere continues through to the farewell dirge of ‘Youlogy’, a uneasy but moving finale.
Unmap is a challenging and dense record, but given time to unfold, there is a beauty and order to
be found in its chaos.