A few seconds into a first listen of “Sounding”, the first track on Minneapolis foursome Volante’s debut album 45 Degrees North, it seems to be 100% clear what type of music is in store. As a lo-fi mix of punkish rock quickly gives way to a louder layer of guitars, then another, then another, it’s easy to see that Volante’s specialty is that crisp, intense, row-of-guitars sound employed by Fugazi, Jawbox (the former band of this album’s producer, J. Robbins) and a host of younger bands.
45 Degrees North is a fitting title, as the band deals in precision. They have an impeccable sense for timing; their guitars form together in efficient lines of power. The sound of their music is a solid one, often based on them getting into a groove and sticking with it, as lead singer Gabriel Shapiro yell-sings along.
As common as their music seems at first, it’d a mistake to pigeonhole Volante too quickly. What makes them more special than your average band in this genre is that they make heavy use of the surprise factor. The band will get into a mathematical guitar groove and then set it ablaze, exploding their sound into a dreamy jam. At other times, their sense of melody and tunefulness overcomes their punk side. Shapiro will switch mid-song from his usual, very Guy Picciotto-esque singing to a beautiful, sensitive croon, as in “Common Elemental”. Then there’s a song like “Hum”, where Shapiro tells a spoken story before singing about the open road. In general, the more Volante evade their clear influences and expand their sound, the more enjoyable 45 Degrees North is.
While with a band like this the music usually takes the spotlight over the lyrics, a few listens to 45 Degrees North reveals that their lyrics are poetic impressions of people, places and life, a theme carried into the artful cover art, a series of travel photos with phrases like “shiver like a naked lightbulb” handwritten underneath. The photos and phrases together form an evocative pair. Similarly, Volante are continually alluding to more beneath the surface, urging you to pay closer attention, because they’re not just playing by-the-books punk rock. Throughout there’s a continual sense that they’re capable of even more than what’s captured here which is an especially promising fact given that this is their debut album.
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