At least a year prior to retiring to the remote Wisconsin cabin where Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago was conceived and committed to tape,
Justin Vernon and his fellow cheeseheads Collections of Colonies of Bees had been collaborating on something less concrete but, at once, still familiar to those whose tastes ran toward Bon Iver’s icy, snowbound acoustic snapshots. Three years after beginning this side project, it now has a name—Volcano Choir—and an aural map of the ground they covered, Unmap
In short: This is the experimental side of Bon Iver. The collab is a combination of the sonic elements that made Emma such an indie-underground favorite (massed vocals—all sung by Vernon; acoustic scaffolding tented on top by mournful melodies) but will also remind listeners of the provenance of Collections of Colonies of Bees, formerly a math-rock combo called Pele that could give Tortoise a run for their money on the time/space elasticity continuum.
The resulting product teeters somewhere between loop chemistry (the pop-leaning “Island, Is,” the haunting, vespers-like vocals-as-just-another-instrument of “Dote”) and out-and-out joyful noise (“Mbira in the Morass” is essentially the sound of a malfunctioning music box; “Still” and its Autotuned vocals come off like outer-space urban radio, sort of like hearing hip-hop smoothed out on the R & B tip with some avant-garde feel appeal to it). The record is too weird to turn heads in quite the same meteoric fashion that Emma did but is a nice addition to Vernon’s canon and an indicator of just how high he can let his freak flag wave and still sound just like himself.
Listen to Volcano Choir's "Mbira in the Morass" from Unmap: