Photo courtesy of the Volcanoless MySpace page
by Jeffrey ThiessenThe presence of outright legitimacy in a dusty metropolis may be tough to spot, but it's always well worth the effort, and when found, it's truly spectacular to reap such benefits.
It's easy to settle, but I've always loved to fight to find something worth fighting for. That's why I feel I lucked out big time by finding Volcanoless in Canada, a group that has been operating from my neck of the woods for the last several years (Saskatoon, Sask, Canada). They've just finished recording their new studio-offering entitled The Way Forward, and without a doubt, this is one of the most uniquely transferable records I have ever heard.
I gotta explain one thing before we go on. It's a five person band, with a fairly standard setup of a singer, drummer, and three guitarists, only the guitars are all of the acoustic variety. Please don't assume this is just the product of five, plugged-out hippies joining forces after an evening of ganja and listening to Damien Rice records. There are folk sensibilities present here... but they're processed through an inherent need to obliterate every note, every track, every live show they commit themselves to. Remember when Chuck D vowed to 'Shut 'em Down!' on Apocalypse 91? We're left with absolutely no choice to not only believe his chaos theory, but subscribe to it wholeheartedly, and it's really the same thing with VIC.
It's not a layering thing with this band- instead the guitars weave in and out of each other at will, sometimes going off in different directions yet always ending up at basically the same place. It's also a matter of backing each other up when the music is in danger of losing some of the persistent aural punch that's achieved throughout the album, yet never forced. I'm hip to the communal competition that fuelled so much of the '80's punk explosion, so I asked the band if that sort of thing existed here in Saskatoon, a local scene I've always sort of deplored. Guitarist Levi Soulodre responded by telling me there's a lot of polarization here (something I was aware of) but then went on to clarify that what he was referring to wasn't in terms of tangible success, but instead to a multitude of different musical styles.
He had every opportunity to spit at some of the shameless, no-talent windbags that take up so much of Saskatoon's limited and extremely coveted stage space, but instead focused on the eclectic array of approaches, and it became very clear why so much of VIC is simply a fusion of nearly everything. Instead of pushing their own path and others in their way, they simply absorb everything they encounter and mosey on down to their next gig, which all but ensures that each show will be different then the one before it.
I once read that you could see The Replacements perform twenty shows, in twenty nights, and there would be nothing in common between any of them. The same can be said for Volcanoless, but while The Replacements relied on booze-fuelled helter skelter, VIC rely on subconsciously-channeled spontaneity. Talking to the guys made it clear that assimilation wasn't a hobby or mission in their music- it's their enthusiastic embrace of anything musically that serves as a literal extension of their very existence. This all but ensures this will be a band that will continue to evolve and transform, whether they know it or not.
Levi has this weird way of talking, sort of in a laid-back manner that evokes a lot of patient, tolerant thought processes. But that pattern of tranquility is frequently interrupted by biting annotations that makes it obvious that he could be capable of a lot of seething wrath. I actually did see some of that contempt boil over at times (in the most un-alarming way possible), but it was never directed towards his surroundings (suffice to say, Saskatoon has no CBGB's circa 1977) or other acts (like I said above, I tried to extract some vile, and for the most part failed) or even the god-awful commerce of the music industry (which deemed it necessary to sue an American woman for millions, due to the fact she had twenty-four downloaded songs on her hard drive). None of these topics bred contempt with him. In fact, the only time I did see him revel in disgust was when he mentioned certain unflattering scenarios involving the band in their future years. No shit- this is a happy band. Not only do they not rape the irreversible for angsty song-inspiration, but they don't even fucking acknowledge these grim realities exist. This isn't the stuff of a good band, this is the stuff of a GREAT ONE.
Mitch Lysak (lead vocalist) and Joel Hryniuk (guitar) are the founders of the group, and are immediately likable. They grew up together in a town even smaller and shittier then Saskatoon, and while they still have that sort of yuk-yuk village bond only they will ever share, there is an aura of forbearance about them that enthusiastically acknowledge the numbing restraints of small-town suburbia, while still a bit delighted at their liberation from the shackles of the rural hum-drum. The happiest I saw either of them during our afternoon together was when I asked Joel about his influences- he fondly recalled their days of their youth, where him and Mitch would just sit in cars for hours and listen to albums.
To some, this over-the-moon memory might be interpreted as glorified nostalgia over an event that really isn't that monumental in nature, but those people have clearly never grown up in a remote town. When you grow up in a place where the downtown can be sized up in one Polaroid that's fifty yards away, life-changing events are proportional to the surroundings. That is to say sitting in a car listening to punk music might seem small in nature to some, but to people like Mitch and Joel, it's liberty, compactly contained in a 5,000 pound rust bucket parked out by some dude's ranch. The Way Forward is filled with seemingly multifarious disinformation like this example, but upon further inspection, the music not only makes it seem relatable, we also start to wonder how we could have seen it any other way. Like I said, shut 'em down.
Enver Hampton is another guitarist in the band and I got the sense that if shit did ever go down between any of the band members, he would be the rock that straightens everyone the fuck out in a heartbeat. He sort of warbled around in a very unassuming way, and come to think of it, he looked like Hillel Slovak with facial hair, but he also seems least likely to morph into anything different than the Enver I met that one afternoon. This isn't to say that he doesn't have the capacity to change, but it will always be personal evolutions that will always fit neatly within the framework of Volcanoless. I have seen a lot of groups come and go, and many of the ones that fail don't have an adhesive like Enver- he is the glue that will keep all these very distinctive threads firmly together. If he isn't around, then I'm sure new guy drummer Brad's blasting of '80's hair metal will overpower the squabble.
The music of Volcanoless in Canada isn't just a screwy recipe with a bunch of random ingredients that somehow turned out cool. All the love, hate, joy, despair of their world, is filtered through a sensibility which the boys in the band are always fully aware of, and it's the need to dance, or more specifically, the need to let our bodies become a product of an idyllic milieu. It's not exactly out of the races and onto the tracks; instead it's a reasonable extension of how they see music, their world, which ostensibly, turns out to be the same most of the time. Take "Mexican Circus" for example: it's carried from beginning to end with a pretty streamlined form of euphoria, and when Mitch calls the rest of the guys to join in the anthemic chorus, we feel like we all should be joining in as well. There is a keen, although sublime dramatic sense throughout the track, and it's not 'til we stop tapping our foot and humming along that we realize we're out of breath, not just because as a listener we are forced into intricate involvement, but we also have a terrible time actually keeping up. Hang out on a lunatic fringe all you want, or surrender to the feral rhythms and be in a position to almost hug it out with the gifts VIC leaves you with... Both approaches have one thing in common: they will begin to understand personal truth comes in many forms, and in the case of Volcanoless in Canada, it will most likely be blood on the dance-floor. I don't know how they did it, but they inherited a sense of life we can only hope to hungrily claw at. The sixth track on The Way Forward is "Make Up Your Mind (Rm.5)," and it finds the band skewing the usual ambiguous approach of allowing the music to push nebulous slurs as something we feel intrinsically connected to- here the attack is more direct, and in comparison to the rest of the album, which is a loose exchange of ideas and experiments, the edge here almost seems diabolical.
It's not though. The carefree hi-jinx of The Way Forward is infectious to say the least, but it's pretty startling to see "Make Up Your Mind" taking such an assertive tone, and it's also a convenient reminder that VIC maintains a much stronger iron fist over their music then most will give them credit for. I'm sure they wouldn't have it any other way. The vocals are pushed way up in the mix while the band furiously tries to catch up, and nearly succeeds. It's a rapidly combative song in the most harmonious way possible.
There's an undertow here, but the ragged glory of The Way Forward is no trick of the heart- the places it takes us to are real, and the people we meet along the way are real. Failure to comprehend that is a failure to recognize the fragility of the human condition and subsequent embrace of how easy it actually is to shape and shift to your liking. It's probably tremendously difficult to achieve such a thing, but VIC makes it seem absurdly simple. There is no clearer example of this than on "Just Tell Em Yr Alright (Lost and Hollowed Through)." This track, like so many others on the album, works not because of what the group says to us, but instead for the way it makes the mundane and trivial seem joyous and momentous, all filtered through inherited stories of a lethal acknowledgment pointing towards the inescapable fact that all of us listen to music in context entirely too much, and not in its distilled form on a primal level.
It's possible to not like the music of VIC, if you're the type of person that sends a goat to protect the cabbage. That is to say, if you go out of your way to make amazing things in life wrought with complications. With that said, The Way Forward taught me something. VIC really didn't yearn to be in this position, but the whacked-out transcendental, idyllic nature that bleeds out of every single part of the group made me see that it's pretty pointless to seek the truth in mundane details- it's only really captured in the essence of life itself, and that can only be examined in cases where life is interpreted in a million different ways, but never as a vacancy.
No one gets out of here alive, but there is no reason we can't yearn for more than a painless, relatively guilt-free existence. Yesterdays will always haunt us, but Volcanoless in Canada will always (read: hopefully) be there to keep our memories vague. I believe in their music, and until you invite them into your lives, the world will never truly be your dance-floor. Time to get off skid row, folks.
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