Anyone thinking that Volcano Choir are going to be anything like Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago just because Justin Vernon is involved is in for a bit of a shock. Yes, Vernon's otherworldly vocals grace most of the songs on Unmap, but there are no real songs to speak of, no hushed backwoods folk grandeur or heartbreakingly soulful sounds. Instead, Vernon and his friends from the post-rock band Collections of Colonies of Bees have crafted a defiantly experimental album that relies on Vernon's vocals as just another color in the paint box, not the main focus. The tracks are largely free-floating post-rock jams that drift and flow without great purpose but often sound intensely emotional, as on the driving climax of "Seelpymouth" or the segment of "And Gather" when Vernon's massed vocal overdubs join together in a hurricane of sound. Elsewhere, the group conjures up the dreamy, almost dancy post-shoegaze sound of A.R. Kane (on the album's best -- and most songlike -- song, "Island, Is"), dives headfirst into the kind of atonal modern composition Scott Walker favored in the 2000s on "Mbira in the Morass," and drifts into almost new agey soundscapes on the album-closing "Youlogy." A few tracks aren't miles away from Vernon's work with Bon Iver, especially the opening "Husks and Shells" and "Still," which is basically a rewrite of "Woods" from the Blood Bank EP, using the same vocodered vocals but inserting them into an almost rocking backwoods jam. Unmap won't scare off hardier Bon Iver fans who might find its experiments intriguing enough to get past the lack of songs. It will also please those who were worried that Vernon might be content to just repeat the BI formula until it became clichéd. Despite the occasional flaws, the album shows that Vernon (along with the guys in Collections of Colonies of Bees) has not only the desire to branch out but also the necessary skills.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra