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Volcano Choir
Unmap Hannah Gregory , October 2nd, 2009 06:02

Unmap is a collective, free-folk affair; a speculative, free-fall communion. The product of a November weekend’s musical activity at a place called Fall Creek in Wisconsin, Volcano Choir have created a sound document that reflects their surroundings. Sliding up the volume dial, you imagine a Little House in the Big Woods setting: camp fires, sugar snow, a cabin; the light falling behind stark trees without leaves. Blankets and instruments are fetched, fingers and strings are warmed; music is made to accompany the darkness.

Volcano Choir consists of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon — no stranger to shed creativity — and members of Collections of Colonies of Bees. If their debut album sounds as malleable, as viscous and elastic, as the rambling conversations of old friends, it’s because the group are just that. And if the bandmates’ connections go back a long way, their music spreads outwards, covering the distance between other worlds. The album is drafted around a folk cartography: the first reference point plotted, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, meets second and third checkpoints in David Sylvian and Steve Reich. But aside from lone composer types, the music swells towards collective tones, shimmering and drifting and unsettled.

Over a traditional acoustic template, shifting loops are layered. Softly softly beginnings catch glimpses of choral high-flying, turn to hammering snare and distortion, skate onto a sparsely melodic landscape. Haunting music-box chimes meld with vocal experimentation, backwood atmospherics lead to disorientation. The undoing of icy crescendos counters the intimation of gospel harmonies — where the group’s nod in the direction of Mahalia Jackson begins to make itself heard. But the listener should not concern themselves with orientation; we must accept being lost, inside a spun-note cocoon, while everything outside remains frozen.