REVIEW: Volcano Choir – Repave

130528-volcano-choirSo there was this guy a few years ago. Bearded fella, pretty unknown. Got his heart broken by Emma, went into a log cabin, turned his pain into some quietly beautiful songs. Four years on, he’s worked with everyone from Kanye West to Anais Mitchell, had his songs covered on talent shows, and played a sold-out Wembley Arena. Not bad going eh, Justin Vernon?

You have to wonder how much that arena mentality (and hindsight) has influenced Volcano Choir’s Repave, the second album from Vernon’s side-project and creative space away from Bon Iver. The initial organ and acoustic plucking on opener Tiderays is slightly misleading, as what follows is rousing enough to bring a whole stadium to their feet. It’s near-perfect alt-rock, perhaps (in the nicest possible way) something Coldplay might produce on an alternate timeline, save the quirks around the three-minute mark – it’s quite the feat to turn a glitchy vocal into a devastating staccato melody, and it’s one of the best moments on the album.

Acetate continues the Volcano Choir take on the rock chorus, while Comrade brings back that Vernon falsetto to the fore again. Both this and lead single Byegone, below, show the man on top form, erupting with a fire that would consume something like Skinny Love in an instant.

There’s still a glimpse of that Bon Iver fragility on the second standout track, Alaskans: “Lover won’t you talk to me about your lonely heart?” sings an aching Vernon over a gorgeous piano/acoustic guitar arrangement, further proof of why he remains such a prolific, consistently dependable artist. In fact, it makes the overall message seem clear, almost akin to the album cover – Volcano Choir are commanders of their tide, swelling when they need to, ebbing at just the right times. And it works a total charm.