volcano! Paperwork

[The Leaf Label; 2008]

Styles: noise rock, post rock, experimental
Others: The Ex, U.S. Maple, Deerhoof

When we were first introduced to volcano! three years back, the initial boisterousness of their avant rock assault was disarming enough to earn them a place in our innovation-deprived hearts. Beautiful Seizure was everything an experimental rock record should be -- difficult, unpredictable, and invigorating. Now, following a two-year hiatus, volcano!'s sophomore effort Paperwork has arrived as our latest listening challenge, and I am happy to report that there's plenty reason to rejoice.

Although the band has maintained its restlessness and proclivity for outbursts, this new batch of compositions has a demeanor both more focused and melodic than their earlier work. Overall, the band seems to be enjoying working together as a tighter unit, and as a result, an almost funky quality emerges at times from the cacophony, as when "Africa Just Wants to Have Fun" ends with a breakdown that I imagine will inspire many a listener to unexpectedly and uncontrollably lapse into a shaking of the booty.

Sam Scranton's drumming was always a major component of volcano!'s sound, but here, it's nothing short of foundational. Right from the opening track "Performance Evaluation Shuffle," his ability to be simultaneously rock-solid and unhinged allows his bandmates to careen and wobble without the slightest sense of ever losing purpose. Meanwhile, Aaron With's vocals and guitarwork, while still rambunctious, show more sarcastic bite and tunefulness. "Slow Jam" in particular seems an exercise in flaunting his admirable elasticity in both areas, a strange sex/love song where he comes across as a nerdy pervert constantly apologizing for overstepping his boundaries. With a little Timbaland tweaking, it could be on JT's next album (or at least Har Mar's).

It seems inevitable that, after a mold-breaking start, a band can only mature by finding ways of subverting form from within -- breaking pop apart by more fully working within (and against) its contours. In this sense, Paperwork is a definite step forward, and though it's possible that those who loved volcano! before might find this more "conventional" album less exciting, I'd be surprised if anyone called it less rewarding.

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