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Volcano the Bear - The Idea of Wood

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Artist: Volcano the Bear

Album: The Idea of Wood

Label: Textile

Review date: Nov. 8, 2004

“New Weird America” may be the new big thing, but merry olde (weird) England never stopped waving the freak flag boldly. Leicester’s Volcano the Bear, a quartet of exceedingly English eccentrics, have been creating their particular brand of rustic idiosyncrasy since 1995. Their genetic line is usually traced through the Residents and This Heat, and while the sheer absurdity of the former and dirge-like vocal harmonies of the latter may figure heartily into Volcano the Bear’s sound, the band exists in a twisted forest all their own. The Idea of Wood brings the group to Textile Records after five releases on Portland’s Beta-lactam Ring imprint; the Parisian Textile had previously released work by bandmember Daniel Padden’s One Ensemble.

The Idea of Wood covers copious ground, from spiritual backwoods lamentations to Eastern-tinged improvisations. Regardless of whether they’re being goofy or solemn, Volcano the Bear exude sincerity; never does it feel as though they’re trying to be weird, or, in fact, trying to do anything at all. In turn, The Idea of Wood is imbued with an authenticity that serves as the album’s backbone. The sparse, acoustic meanderings of the quartet, even replete with falsetto vocals and a Dadaist interpretation of folk musics, are no laughing matter. “Shake Your Crow,” with its eerie chorus of voices, exists peaceably beside the more somber, atmospheric “Woman Who Weighs Out the Wood,” a symbiosis indicative of Volcano the Bear’s ability to be strikingly strange without sacrificing impact. A subtle beauty is prevalent in The Idea of Wood, a multi-dimensional album which doesn’t depend solely upon the music’s stalwart singularity.

It could simply be the subliminal influence of the album’s title, but The Idea of Wood feels rather woodsy, indigenous to the forest’s darkest corners. Volcano the Bear aren’t terribly primitive in their technique, but there exists a significant sense of the anti-modern in their music, not Luddite so much as with a purposeful emphasis on simplicity. One can imagine strains of The Idea of Wood recorded deep in an isolated woodland; what Colin Turnbull’s field recordings were to Pygmy music, this music could be to a mysterious race of backwoods British dwarves. It’s a fanciful idea, of course, but not so much so that one can’t imagine the sounds of “Charming Cabbage Clock” drifting through the trees, emerging softly from the forest mists.

By Adam Strohm

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