Collaboration brings the foundation of much of the great music of the past decade. Whether it is from artists sampling older works or the more general bands playing with each other, music has taken new routes by havings artists borrow and merge their styles. When Justin Vernon made the (I think purposeful) decision of producing an album with fellow Wisonsin musicians Collections of Collonies of Bees he knew that the contrasting yet familiar artists would produce an album that could tickle our musical fancies. Justin Vernon has one of the greatest voices in music, and combined with a talented instrumental group the album had potential to be epic. And they were right.
Husks and Shells dreminds ones of of the great work produece by the Books no longer than 5 years ago. Very melodic and equally beautiful, yet in a diffucult and non-parallel time signature. This song takes simplicity, in the form of one guitar line, to its peak, through the whole song. And the beauty is magnified by Vernons voice, familiar to all of us as a love-broken ballad yet shown to us here as Collection's instrument, subtly as both percussion and an atmospheric instrument. The song fades and follows, coming in and out of remnants of great beauty.
Finally breaking out of simplicity and ready to include the traditional percussionists is Sleepymouth. Following the general theme of the album is a repeditive guitar and keyboard following the high hat however in no way easily interpretable. The instrmentals formed in this song are very contrasting and layered and would make you believe that they dont qutie fit together, however, as Vernons voice kicks in and the music subsides, the melodies all of the sudden make sense and build, with the original percussion, and more simplified keyboards and guitars. The song climaxes to Island, IS, the most notable song of the record.
Island, IS is meant to be a song that influences the music to come. Taking much from minimalist musicians as Steven Reich and Phillip Glass, the music takes an expirimental approach to pop music and helps instill in us that music, and the further development of music, is not over. The song is epic in its own regard, not for the layered drums, guitars, keyboards, and melodies, or catchiness or simple brilliance, but rather that the song strikes a chord and makes us feel comfortable. This song could and will only be pulled off by Justin Vernon and his warm and soulful voice, full of emotion and depth, as is the music that surrounds and complements it. This is one of those rare songs that reminds us that there still is much to be discovered with music. And that feels, to say the least, refreshing.
As hard as it is to follow this song up, the group decides to take a more ambient approach, as a means to break up the record. The first two songs built to Island, IS. The rest of the album needs to calm down, and here Volcano Choir decides to follow with the airy Dote, which allows vocals, keyboards, and samples to carry the simplicity, and continue the album.
Here the guitars break and repeat, an arpeggiating keyboard follows, then the music subsides into an easy guitar note, then the original vocals come in with Vernon's voice as a complimenting and overpowering tone.
Mbira in the Morass gives us the simplicity we have not been asking for, with disturbing and sharp lyrics that remind us of his earlier works. The experience with sounds and shapes, love and lost, animals and wilderness, yet all performed by anarchy. Bells and out of tune pianos. Incoherent lyrics. This song leaves the listener uncomfortable, yet ends with a more follow-able out of tune melody that allows us to remember where the album took us before.
Cool Knowledge shows us the band is capable of beat boxing and even hip hop. Was it really all that simple all these years?
The next song, the brilliant Still, begins with a keyboard holding a steady pace, then the resonance is turned upwards and the uncoordinanteed guiar takes the show. The silence is broken by Vernons voice, along with harmonies, and the song continues in simplicity, as a blues track, a simple vocal harmony complimented by a simple keyboard, and the lyrics praise Vernon's state of being. Eventually electric guitars and drums take over the song, with a very slow and building release, more effects put in place, singing "I'm all in the world / I'm down on my mind".
The album ends with focus on the voice that built the album. In Youlogy, Vernon's voice is displayed with the assistance of his own choir. Simple, ambient, and powerful.
Vernon's voice struck a chord in me the first time I heard him. I knew this was nothing I had heard before, yet something I knew would change my life, and I was right. Complimented by strong instrumental compositions, it is proved proved that his potential goes beyond a folk/blues singer, and we have much to look forward to in the world of gorgeous melodies and heartfelt lyrics.