Unmap is the rare record that excites by premise alone: pair indie-folk king Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) with the equally esoteric Wisconsin post-rock band Collections of Colonies of Bees, and let Vernon’s arresting voice glide over the band’s mesmerizing, cinematic sound collages. That tantalizing prospect doesn’t even begin to describe the music found on Unmap, though. While the first single, “Island, IS,” perfectly marries those elements into one of the best tracks of the year, the rest of the album is more exploratory and less commercially accessible. Inexplicable vocal harmonies wind in and out of glimmering organic ambience, elegantly experimental rhythms form the basis of ghostly lyrical ruminations, and disparate influences like blues and musique concrete coexist within the same track. The manner in which sounds enter and exit is often surprising, even jarring, and those who get this album based on “Islands, IS” are either in for an enjoyable avant-garde experience or a major disappointment. The group is at its best when investing time in wide, picturesque swaths of instrumental and vocal bliss, such as on the kaleidescopic “Still” and the sweeping “Husks and Shells.” Those tracks, along with “Islands, IS” and the immersive “Seeplymouth” serve as highlights on the very enlightening musical expedition that is Unmap.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10