Volcano! – Piñata (The Leaf Label/ May 28 2012)
By Stephenson Ardern-Sodje
Volcano! are a trio of Alt-Rockers from Chicago producing music from under the auspices of The Leaf Label, who have been ‘fusing improvisation with pop compositions’ since 2003. Their debut release Beautiful Seizures (2005), merged Mark Cartwright’s dizzying feedback and disorientating distortion with Sam Scranton’s frenetic drumming, all offset by Aaron With’s airy, Matt Bellamy-esque falsetto. Their second album, Paperwork (2008), saw the band expand on their frantic sound and garnered them considerable critical success, including recognition from Pitchfork, and spawned the unpredictable and surprisingly dance-able single, ‘Africa Just Wants To Have Fun’.
All of which brings us to their latest full-length musical offering for 2012; Piñata. For a three-piece, Volcano! manage to create a surprising amount of noise. Cartwright’s minimalist electronica runs helter-skelter through the album, sometimes stabbing, sometimes shivering, but always with an air of joyous, childlike intensity. Scranton’s crisp drums cut through the mist of electronic fuzz and provide a musical skeleton that propels the album forward in jerky leaps and bounds.
If I had to sum up Piñata in one word it would be without a doubt ‘energetic’. The trio’s maniacal sound explodes from the first track, ‘Piñata’, the title of which promises an album containing more of the same. And that’s exactly what they deliver; almost, I’m sad to say, to a fault.
The entire 45 minutes of Piñata rolls on with such disorientating momentum that it’s difficult for the casual music-lover to keep up. The heavily free-jazz influenced beats on songs like lead single ‘So Many Lemons’ and ‘St. Mary of Nazareth’, combined with With’s wild vocals, wailing plaintively on tracks like ‘Child Star’ and ‘Supply and Demand’ and dropping to an almost unintelligible percussive rap on tracks like the final ‘Long Gone’, don’t exactly make for easy listening.
While I enjoy the lively summer sounds of Pinata, I feel like it could have benefited from some more introverted numbers like the deliciously melancholic ‘Fighter’. With’s guitar comes into its own jangling broken chords over an eerie fog of Cartwright’s insistent synth and With’s voice is never better than when he’s crooning that he wishes he could ‘turn his hands into knives’, bringing a tenderness through his melody that I feel is lacking from many of the other tracks on the album.
From a band who describe themselves as lovers of ‘maximal intensity’ and ‘unpredictable structures’ the wild nature of their new release should come as no surprise; however, I do feel that as a whole Piñata could’ve been given even more freedom to ramble across a myriad of musical genres. The signature Volcano! sound is clearly evident from the opening track (made obvious from With’s first Morrissey-esque moan) and aside from a couple of choice moments the band remain largely faithful to the hipster-tinged dsco-funk sounds that they explored on their first two albums. That stylistic reproduction might not be a turn off for most bands, Oasis managed to make a career out of it for decades but, while Pinata is as bubbly and blaring a set of songs as the Chicagoans have ever released, I would like to have heard some more genre-diversification for a group that bills itself as ‘experimental’.