Volcano Choir – Unmap

If ambient music is your thing then Volcano Choir, the side project of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, is definitely going to light your joss stick.

Featuring Vernon and members of Collections of Colonies of Bees, who like Vernon are from Wisconsin, the aim was to create an intimate piece of music, mixing folk and ambient music with a focus on vocal harmonies.

The start of this project predates the launch of Bon Iver, with much of the song writing taking place largely in 2005 before being polished off in November last year.

In between Vernon had achieved critical and commercial success with Bon Iver following the release of the band’s stunning 2008 debut For Emma, Forever Ago. As a result it is hard to avoid comparing Unmap with Bon Iver, as unfair as that is.

Despite being a clear ambient departure  much of Vernon’s Bon Iver sound, his subtle melodies and whispering vocals,  are present on Unmap. It is a satisfying listen, full of beautiful layers, but it does lack much of the passion and sound that Vernon has created with Bon Iver.

Across the nine tracks there are really only two standouts. Opener ‘Husks and Shells’, is rare for the album as it features acoustic guitar as the dominant sound. It works well and it would have been good to hear similar across the album. The other standout is ‘Islands, IS’, with its electro beats and bleeps weaving in and out of Vernon’s whisper it is probably the most accessible and listenable track on the album.

For  those expecting a follow up to For Emma, Forever Ago listening to Unmap will feel a little like walking into a new age shop by mistake.  The crystals look nice, the incense smells good but there’s not much more to it and you have to walk out sheepishly in search of something with more substance.


by Joe Lepper, Oct 2009


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