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VOLCANO! – Paperwork (The Leaf Label)

Posted: September 1st, 2008, by Pascal Ansell

There has never been a more fitting title for an album than Volcano’s debut Beautiful Seizure. The Chicago three-piece introduced to an unsuspecting few a world of swirling electronics, spasmodic guitars and rolling, charged semi-improvised drumming – it’s one of my favourite albums. There’s no band that comes close to sounding like Volcano – a hot delicious juicy musical lava to be readily engulfed in. Actually, they sound a little bit like Storm and Stress, just not shit.

What sets Volcano from other bands is the choice you have to listen to any respective musician in any song and be entertained – each consistently provide endlessly interesting melodic lines, chewy noise or rhythmic rolls. Aaron With’s guitar is a scratchy, plucky delight with an abrasive and raw tone. The synths, laptop and bass player Mark Cartwright is even more intriguing to listen to, playing atmospheric rumblings and fuzzy keys; winding lines of bass guitar to all-out delicious noise, and he seldom stays in one mode for long. I might have read this somewhere before, but a perfect description of Volcano’s drummer, Sam Scranton, is that he resembles a jazz drummer playing rock. Like many a jazz hitter he’s delicate and soft in his execution, but with a generous enough groove to back up his bandmates.

The expectations laid upon Paperwork couldn’t be higher, but it is so good because it sounds in parts a bit, well, wrong. In ‘Sweet Tooth’ instruments are played how they shouldn’t; the faintly jarring guitar and keyboard are slightly out of tune with each other, and With’s muted plucking is a definition of understated beauty. ‘Astronomer’s Ballad’ begins with a floating splendour and carries on with a wonderful chaos, bordering on the free-improv. This is Volcano’s trademark sound: loose, wobbly, partially improvised, but somehow they never sound self-indulgent – and this is where Storm and Stress often fall flat on their skinny pretentious arses.

Apparently, ‘Paperwork’ is infused with cynical political stabs and celebrity-bashing, but With’s lyrics are often hard to make out. No matter. He’s got a ripe falsetto, a tremendous wail that’s relatively Thom York-ish in a more upbeat, less suicidal strain.

I doubt there’s a higher compliment you can pay a band or artist than to say that they are never, not even for the slightest second, dull. Volcano are always gratifyingly pricking the ears with some odd keyboard blip here and huge cascading wave of beauty there; they are a consistently entertaining listen. It’s hardly a problem that Volcano’s latest album is not quite as breathtaking as Beautiful Seizure because it’s barely possible for it to be bettered. To look at it another way, Paperwork is a more ordered and coherent listen than their debut, and is generally easier to digest. And the great consolation is that it’s an album you can play at the odd shindig without too many people scratching their heads.


Pascal Ansell