Volcano Choir is an assembly of Wisconsinites Jon Mueller, Chris Rosenau, Jim Schoenecker, Daniel Spack, Justin Vernon, and Thomas Wincek. You might find these old friends also frequenting records and stages under different monikers, Collections of Colonies of Bees and Bon Iver. The collaboration predates the meteoric rise of Justin Vernon's Bon Iver project, with original songwriting dating back to the summer of 2005, right around the time the Bees first toured with Vernon's previous band DeYarmond Edison.
While entirely a studio record, the collection doesn't suffer from the overburdens of a digital pile up or over-thinking. Rather it breathes and convulses in equal measure, radiating an inherent dynamism found only in the voluntary bondage of intimacy. With influences ranging from David Sylvian and Steve Reich to Mahalia Jackson and Tom Waits, it might be more accurate to say the group's influence is music itself. You can hear it in the care and real love generously applied to each moment of Unmap. With the vibe of some intimate backwoods gospel, plus a spirit of patience and thoughtful repetition, the music of Volcano Choir is as dynamic as it is lovely.
Unmap ultimately came together over a weekend in November 2008 in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, at Justin and Nate Vernon's recording studio. And while it is at its heart a record about the allure of being with people you need and making something with them, it is also a document created by musicians with rare gifts getting together to exorcise their ideas about beauty. This scaffolding of loops and off grid tempos for choral style vocals offers a state of continual surprise, call it unexpectation.
Unmap marks the debut full-length from Volcano Choir, the collaboration between Collections of Colonies of Bees and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
Wilderness's third full-length album entitled "(k)no(w)here" was conceived as one musical piece, and the impetus for this composition came from an invitation to collaborate with renowned visual artist Charles Long at Long's exhibit at the Whitney Biennial in Spring of 2008. The eight identifiable parts of "(k)no(w)here" are not readily separated from each other, such is the flow from and into each part. Created in ways different than the previous Wilderness self-titled album (2005) and the Wilderness "Vessel States" album (2006), "(k)no(w)here" still retains the Wilderness sound, with some evolution. On the new album, James Johnson is sometimes joined vocally by Colin McCann (aka The Lord Dog Bird, whose self-titled debut was released by Jagjaguwar in the Summer of 2008). And, as on previous albums, McCann performs on guitar, Brian Gossman on bass, and William Goode on drums, but the resulting community of all these parts comes across as more dynamic, and the perceived space they inhabit seems more vast.
Ruins is Wolf People's new album, and its over-riding theme is that of nature reclaiming the land. The transcendence of life over politics, plants over people. It asks: where are we going and what comes next? If culture is history's narration, then Wolf People are custodians and conduits; electrified sages, if you will. Through them runs a time-line of a nation rising from bloody glory to existentialist confusion. Yet within Ruins, their album proper, lies a spirit of hope too, it is a reminder that society is no match for the mighty power of music and nature working in perfect symbiosis. Wolf People are time travellers, their tools mythology, history, hauntology, big riffs, bigger beats, electricity. Recorded in Devon, Isle Of Wight and London, Ruins is their most direct and instinctive work yet, simultaneously reaching back into a fecund past to tell us who we are today, while harnessing the power of modern technology and ideas to ponder unknown futures. Lyrically Ruins imagines how the planet might appear when society has finally fallen to dust and ash, and the creeping vines and nettles have reclaimed the land. It is the product of letting go of conceit, contrivance and, indeed, a career plan. Influences upon Ruins come in all shapes, size, contours and hues: the discovery of proto Sabbath/Zeppelin Scottish band Iron Claw, the lesser known landscapes of rural Bedfordshire, backstage Taekwondo stretches, Scandinavian psychedelia, fleeting rural epiphanies, Dungen, Trees, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, a group holiday on a remote Finnish island, and Jagjaguwar flipping out after seeing them play in Bloomington, Indiana and insisting it was time they made their Back In Black...
Following Wolf People's critically acclaimed 2013 release, “Fain,” comes this 4-track 12" featuring two of the album’s most accomplished songs and two brand new tracks. "When the Fire is Dead in the Grate" has quickly been established as a fan-favorite throughout venues during their European tour. Stewart Lee described the song as ".... the album’s first stone classic, a funky folk-metal workout that trails off into a compellingly extended coda, both guitarists circling and dovetailing and spiraling." A brand new track, "Become the Ground," breaks new ground for the band, being, perhaps, their most obviously folk-influenced song to date. It’s a beautiful duet between lead singer Jack Sharp and guest vocalist Nicola Keary before the song breaks into a swirling psychedelic jam. The B-side of the 12” is made up of the first track fans heard on Fain, "All Returns", but now coupled with "All Returns Part II", the song’s original extended outro. It’s Wolf People at their best, locking into a masterful groove, razor-sharp guitars lines interlocking and intertwining.
Recorded in an isolated house in the Yorkshire Dales, Fain is the sound of a band at the peak of their creative powers. It’s an honest and natural album that allows its stories and melodies to breathe. The album draws on more traditional English and Scottish folk melodies than anything they’ve done before, but not straying from the drop-out fuzz-rock route they’ve made their own.
Steeple is the first album proper from Wolf People and represents the emergence of a fully fledged band from the fragmented, haunted bedroom meanderings of their Tidings singles compilation, released earlier this year. Recorded in a converted chicken barn on the grounds of a 17th century Welsh mansion, Steeple takes on a heavier sound while maintaining the arabesque electric guitars, groove-laden drums and ethereal vocals that characterized its predecessor.
Cheerfully aware of the English rock band cliché of “getting it together in the country," the quartet did it anyway, inspired by the rural isolation of West Wales to conjure shifting rhythms, entrancing folksong and smoke-fogged, riff-stoked jams. Steeple captures a band in metamorphosis, bridging frontman Jack Sharp’s earlier solo efforts and the speaker-shearing attack developed in concert over the past four years. Now an accomplished live unit, the quartet have shared stages with the likes of The Besnard Lakes, Dinosaur Jr, Dungen, Endless Boogie, Lightning Dust and Tinariwen.
While the bulk of recording took place in Wales, the remainder was undertaken during post-day job, late night sessions in Sharp’s bedroom studio. The results are both more coherent and nuanced than previous outings, with Sharp’s keen ear for a tune complemented by heady instrumental passages that veer between dreamlike traditional melodies and feedback onslaughts. Proud of their heritage, both musical and cultural, Wolf People's vision faithfully reflects the myriad environments the group's members move between — the British countryside and various cities (Bedford, London and North Yorkshire) — while offering a universally appreciable set of songs for this age or any other. Wolf People are Jack Sharp, Joe Hollick, Dan Davies and Tom Watt.
Tidings is the first dark and frenzied offering from London's Wolf People — an alchemistic compendium of English classic rock that has been doused in wine, its pages left red-stained, blurred and melded in the most interesting ways. The quartet — and first UK rock band to join the Jagjaguwar inner circle — is eager to stress that Tidings is not a proper album per se. Collected from recordings made by Jack Sharp in Bedford, England between 2005 and 2007 (and mostly before the band as it exists now was formed), Tidings is wild with tape hiss, feedback and background noise — a fecund broth of sounds competing for the listener's attention. Stitched together in a style reminiscent of Faust or early Mothers Of Invention, the songs lay nestled in snatches of field recordings, winding tapes, squealing feedback, studio outtakes and the voices of dead relatives. The tunes themselves are full of hissing guitars, distorted blues harmonica, acid rock, mystical flutes and crackling tape, often based on updated versions of classic blues structures and half-remembered English folk songs. These recordings form the prehistory of a band that have recently garnered a reputation for blistering live performances around the UK. Their sound has evolved to include the diverse influences and musicianship of Jack's three colleagues and, as such, Tidings serves as index of possibilities.
On their debut self-titled album, Women embraced sonic brashness that deeper examination revealed to be tinted with sly pop melody. With their second album "Public Strain", the band has honed a sound truthful to that reverb drenched noise while allowing the pop sensibilities to surface into clearer focus.
This exact balance of delicate and dense is a pervasive thread throughout the album, reflecting the contradiction of the band's environment buried in urban sprawl framed by prairie landscape. Whether twisting through the urgent krautrock of "Locust Valley", an exercise of harmony through simplicity, or climaxing with the bittersweet melody of "Eyesore", the album somehow builds luminous contrast out of a palette of grays.
Sometimes light and spacious, at other times eerie and dense with an ominous weight, this self titled album touches upon Velvet Underground, Swell Maps or This Heat while not really having any obvious precursors - a lo-fi masterpiece cloaked in layers of vibrato and guitar wash.