Volcano Choir, "Repave"
Volcano Choir, "Repave" (courtesy)
Volcano Choir, in case you've been missing it, is the magical combination of Justin Vernon and Collections of Colonies of Bees. (That's a band. Vernon hasn't totally lost it.)

Repave is Volcano Choir's follow-up to the 2009 debut LP Unmap and everything just sounds more put together, in a good way. This is what Vernon told New York magazine about Volcano Choir's crystallization after the first record: “So we were just sitting around like, ‘You guys, we could really write, like, catchy music, and it wouldn't be shitty, because we're us and we're coming from where we're coming from.'” If they really did set out to do this on Repave, they succeeded. Unmap was pretty loose and atmospheric, and while Repave holds onto the experimental free spirit, the songs are more structured. They're giving us things to hook onto something this time.

The opener, “Tiderays,” is especially catchy for it's soaring chorus. And though it's maybe more optimistic, the record is actually quite similar to Bon Iver, sonically -- no doubt because of Vernon's distinctive falsetto, but also a similar melancholy mixed with warmth. Those locked-in-a-cabin feelings are set to soft indie rock rally cries. These aren't Springsteen-level anthems, but even quiet songs can have that spirit-lifting propulsion.

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“Byegone,” for example, employs that tension-building trick of a low-key, steady plucking on one note as the vocals and other instrumentals slowly build over it. The cathartic chorus is the kind of stuff that makes you want to wave a lighter in the air.

Of course, underlying all the visceral attractiveness is a whole lot of detail and playful songwriting. Between grand choruses are guitar lines that wander off to nowhere and piano lines that seem blurted-out, but at just the right moment.

As is always the case with this kind of music, it can be easy to drift off or get a little sleepy. That's what you sign up for, though, plus it's so pretty that it's hard to hold it against them. Maybe Repave is a record for a specific mood or place, but it suits whatever and wherever that is beautifully.