Justin Vernon’s reputation is undoubtedly “that guy who lived in a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin.” That and being “Bahn Eye-verr.” But his latest project, Volcano Choir, may have just sealed his fate as a jack-of-all-trades: he’s able to croon with just his guitar, lend his voice to a Kanye track alongside Chief Keef, and now, write power ballads that crescendo into great heights. A collaboration between Vernon and the guys of Collections of Colonies of Bees, the sextet’s sophomore effort is the aptly titled “Repave,” showcasing a slightly different direction than 2009’s “Unmap.” The first track, “Tiderays,” sets the stage for the album, starting with soft guitar and Vernon’s trademark falsetto. It gradually builds itself up to a booming yet beautiful climax, declaring, “Don’t call me again / You’re the bitch that never ends.”
Half the time who knows what Vernon is trying to say or why, with lines like “With enough keef / You can really bore someone” (Chief Keef diss track, for sure) and “Sexing all your parliaments” from the first single “Byegone.” And maybe that’s okay. Vernon’s words are almost always opaque, whether they’re of an introspective or ridiculous nature. Although much of the album’s verses don’t match up with its grand overtures and almost anthemic choruses, “Repave” comes together mid-album on the delicate track “Alaskans.” Vernon, backed by nothing but a little guitar and piano, sings “Decide, decide, decide, decide / repave, repave, repave, repave…,” cementing this album as a decidedly more whole step forward from their last which felt unfocused and even unfinished.
With headphones on, the sounds of “Repave” washed over me. It’s a fall album. It’s a driving album. It’s an “I love you” album. It’s an “I hate you” album. Regardless of what it means to the listener, it’s a downright powerful experience.