Sunday, November 8, 2009

Album Review: The Misstep of Volcano Choir's Unmap (C+)

In case you weren't aware, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon teamed up with Collections of Colonies of Bees to form a new gig known as Volcano Choir. Volcano Choir released its debut album, Unmap, only a few weeks ago... and, with a such a strange/experimental sound, I tried to postpone this review several days just to make sure I could fully absorb it.

After listening to the album in full several times, and in pieces, I can't bring myself to giving this album a favorable review (even though I really do want to). Vernon's falsetto vocals are the same -- always unusual and mostly brilliant; however, Unmap lacks the warmth which made Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago ("Emma") one of the best albums of the past couple years. Bon Iver's follow-up EP, Blood Bank, showed a natural progression in Vernon's songwriting. The track Blood Bank showed good maturation and remains his best stand-alone song (in my opinon) -- with cleaner form and more developed lyrics than most of the tracks on Emma.

Unfortunately, Unmap is one step forward and ten steps back.

The main problem I have with Unmap is that it feels like it was intentionally created to be experimental, hard to digest, and unappreciated by the masses but revered by a select few. Emma, on the hand, felt completely genuine -- which added to its charm. Obviously, I don't know the actual motivation behind these albums, but I can tell you this. Unmap can be a frustrating listen -- even for the most opened-minded fans.

Where Emma created a free-flowing album that often sounded as if it was one track (think Van Morrison's Astral Weeks or Marvin Gaye's What's Going On); this album is brutally disjointed at parts. This album has received good reviews-- so some people clearly like it. I will admit that there are good songs, such as Still -- which takes Bon Iver's a capella track, Woods, and fills it out with percussion and musical undertones. Other tracks, however, such as Mbira in the Morass (posted-below), ruins any flow that starts to accumulate and, honestly, makes me want to throw the entire album out the window (it really is that bad).

Volcano Choir Unmap: C+

Click here to buy Unmap... but you were warned.

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