Although he’s inevitably become the main accredited name behind Volcano Choir’s sophomore LP, Justin Vernon wrote barely any of the music on Repave. Rather, most of it was helmed by his fellow Wisconsinite bandmates, in turn letting Vernon concentrate on his vocal delivery, which he challenges and stretches here like he never has before on record. By melding the invaluable element that is Justin Vernon with a microphone to a chunk of surprisingly boisterous song ideas (twice as focused as those from their 2009 debut Unmap and a step more sonically advanced) Volcano Choir, too, find their voice on Repave.
These aspects first start to become clear three minutes into the second track, “Acetate”, when the band drops all prior delicate buildup and gleefully steamrolls into stadium territory for the first time, with a full-band shout-along outro: “Shout it/ Shout it gold and loud/ No longer feeling tepid now.” Other moments recall qualities of similarly large, anthemic collectives like TV on the Radio and Arcade Fire, or an incarnation of M83 anchored by strings instead of synths. It’s a new, direct side to the group that feels even louder when combined with Vernon’s frequent nautical imagery.
The album’s strongest stretch is its middle section, namely “Byegone” followed by the centerpiece, “Alaskans”. The former brings the album’s most outward, emphatic moment with a second-half punch of cellos and “Set sail!” shouts that could make Coldplay blush. On “Alaskans”, Vernon alternates between baritone and his smallest falsetto to touch on the biggest of topics: love, war, sex, relationships, and – via a cleared sample of Charles Bukowski reading a poem over the outro, in an appropriately cinematic moment – mortality. These songs demonstrate the absolute best of both of Volcano Choir’s sides, as well as the album’s way of operating in waves: washing over everything with vicious crashes, then peacefully receding, smoothly repaving everything behind them.
Essential Tracks: “Acetate”, “Byegone”, and “Alaskans”