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Volcano the Bear, "Classic Erasmus Fusion"

Volcano the Bear's dramatic, highly ambitious two disc (two-CD or two-LP) return is a lot to ingest, however, every second is rewarding in what could easily be one of my top albums of the year so far and my favorite Volcano the Bear release to date.

Beta-Lactam Ring

Classic Erasmus Fusion - Volcano the Bear

Describing Volcano the Bear's music is about as difficult as identifying the instruments. The quartet's arsenal of gear is transcendant of time and space, culled from different cultures and different eras, from classically orchestral woodwinds (albeit sometimes just blowing through the mouthpiece) to African thumb piano, helicopter sounds, thunderstorm and rain and running water, medieval squeeze boxes, squeak toys, chirping or crying bird sounds, and Asian stringed things.  While improvisation has been integral to the band's development, Volcano the Bear can always be counted on very cold-calculated and composed songs appearing on their official studio albums.  Their arrangement is loose but never wanky or show-offey.  Perhaps it's this lack of soloing and pretention that has kept them from appropriate recognition by some of the major experimental media in favor for a whole "free folk"/"weird rock"/"new weird America" obsession.

Unlike an album where one style or theme is exploited for nearly the entire duration, Classic Erasmus Fusion showcases a variety of what Volcano the Bear have been practicing for years.  Included are accordion like sounds from the squeeze box on "Hail the New Manifesto," which recalls their classic and gorgeous "The Colour of My Find;" unidentifiable things as found on mindbending scraping drones of "Baroque Sensation;" the buzzing of "Lifetime;" and the fantastic arrangement of either harpsichord or the above the fret strings on the guitar, bowed strings, and bell sounds on a song like "Russian Milk."  Vocals on songs like "Did You Ever Feel Like Jesus?" and "Sharp as the Queen's Teeth" are not entirely dissimilar to early 1980s acts like The Shiny Men or This Heat, both in delivery and surrealistic content, while other tracks like "The Merry Potter" features a monotone chant over a (more than likely but not quite 100% sure) clarinet, drum, and a hollowed out digeridoo-like instrument interplay.  It ends on two lengthy pieces which are long, drawn out droning pieces that don't quite match the length and meditative qualities of stuff from The Mountains Among Us, but the humming and buzzing of what could be a harmonium combined with vocals and processed gongs on something like "See Me Now" works very nicely.

The themes and threads may be loose, but the playing is never sloppy: Daniel Padden's guitar playing, Aaron Moore's drumming,  Nick Mott's wind instruments, and Laurence's (now Clarence?) electronics are far more seasoned than on any other past release.  Parts of "Hey Judo," for example, feature wonderfully fun, punchy, fast-paced un-Western  playing by what could be an oud, and the lyrics of "My Favourite Tongues," which might be recognizable from "Seeker" and "New Seeker," are accompanied mainly by some prominent pizzicato plucking.  The contexts of the song titles and lyrics are so obscure that I couldn't even begin to make educated guesses at their origins but it's okay to accept that which is somewhat beyond description as it's both well-constructed and enjoyable. 

I assume the LP version will be a similar listen as despite the record label's claims, the band insists the only differences have to do with crossfades.  And while I've griped in the past on shoddy Beta-Lactam Ring packaging, they must be commended finally for the latest string of CDs, including this one, to be housed in an attrative, rigid, gatefold LP-replica.  Hopefully the latest incarnation will make some more live rounds on these shores.



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