Volcano the Bear
Intriguing, infuriating often indecipherable, Volcano the Bear have for 20 years furrowed a lonely path leading an obscure musical pathway, themselves the only invitees. They’ve had us oft puzzled, sometimes chuckling and on more than one occasion cautiously peaking from behind the settee. Sore thumbs loosely banished to the realms of avant garde by many, impishly steadfast in the serving of sonic curve balls, the Volcanos where never ones for pigeon holes or easy catagorization, whether by design or accident they prefer to keep you on the back foot constantly out guessing you. Under appreciated as most seminal bands tend to be, their formidable and acutely strange musical manifestations where to some musical travelogues reviving lost musical languages / tongues. To others they were surrealists crafting oblique melodic mausoleums. Early releases courted an English eccentricity that was more in tune with the Goons as it was anything recognisably related to any number of a musical genre. Too weird for weird, to attempt to shuffle the Volcano ones into any near musical likeness, as difficult as it might prove to be, would perhaps necessitate a vague reference to this heat and the residents. That said they’d long since left the Ralph camp to explore creative worlds were even the Residents might wisely consider a little forbidding and out there.
Thanks to Pickled Egg records, Volcano the Bear first appeared on our radar with ‘Yak folks y’are’, an album which outside surface wise sounded like the most crooked thing you’d heard all year, for that matter ever, its primitive dialects and woozy dissipates cast weird shadows that had an unnerving knack of tuning themselves in and out, yet for all its unworldly strangeness it was when stripped to its core and with your ears naturalised to its ways, a deliciously intricate pastoral tapestry smothered in a psych-y undergrowth where lay lazily its authors heavy medicating.
To get a measure of where Volcano the Bear appear in the vast sonic universe, maybe to try and hint at a map reference is perhaps easier served by listing some of the labels they’ve hung out with – United Dairies and Beta Lactam Ring in the main, the former home to Nurse with Wound the latter a gathering place for some of the strangest, most experimental and yet forward thinking sounds around. Perfect homes therefore for Volcano the Bear who let’s face it have never stood still long enough for any passing bandwagon to catch up to, they are musical mischief makers who’ve gloried in cannibalising anew everything from outsider psych, musique concrete, weird world, prog, no wave, new wave, future wave, cold wave, weird wave, whatever wave you care to mention the Bear’s have probably beaten you to the punch, in addition chamber drone, opera, freeform noise, hell they were doing wyrd folk before some wit had gotten around to inventing the species and most had gotten their heads around how to spell it. In truth they inhabit the outer spectrums of BBC Radio 3 rather than 6Music, their world, though they maybe strangers on occasion to it, is populated by Resonance FM, the Wire and Ptolemaic Terrascope whilst their whole peculiar presentation, creative mindset and musical vocabulary is served with a more theatrical footing than your usual rudimentary rock posturing, a footing that perhaps owes a great deal to the ad hoc experimental art / sound installations / happenings of the late 60’s and then strangely further back again to the middle ages where at the Court of Royalty travelling actors, artists and musicians would entertain.
So why, you might be thinking at this point, is he mentioning all this, aside sounding and reading like an obituary, far from it, instead it’s a celebration announcing the arrival of a mammoth box set marking their 20th Anniversary. Several years in the planning and making, ‘Commencing’ is the realisation of a studiously considered – not so much an – anthology – but a line in the sand that says this is where we’ve been, this is where we are and this is where we are going, a backwards – sideways and forwards aural journey set across five vinyl albums and featuring a vast trawl through the Volcano vaults unearthing, for what is for the best part, a colossal stash of previously unheard material that features alternate versions, live renditions, obscure self released cassette selections, the occasional rare one off release or compilation appearance. The set appearing via the miasmah imprint comes handsomely packaged in a typically eye catching silk screened box with each album afforded and decorated in its own unique sleeving with extensive liner notes to accompany the tracks on the rear of each. For your trouble and entrance fee sit sixty four tracks with the added bonus of a ten track download of stuff that missed the final pressing cut. Also included here is a hulking 50 page book packed with all manner of Volcano related strangeness that includes gig flyers, artwork and variously assembled writings.
Seems a bit pointless in singling out any specific cuts and doing a track by track analysis, you either like or loathe them, if you are the former camp you know what’s occurring and,, well quite frankly, will have already subscribed and signed up – and I should say at this point – will not be found wanting. If you happen to be in the latter grouping – then let’s be honest you’ve skipped this altogether. That said we did eye the inclusion of ‘Feverfew’ – a track that we managed, many years ago, to prize of the band for feature on a cover mount CD for the long since defunct Losing Today magazine – I’m fairly certain I still have the edition of one CD with hand written notes about our person somewhere, no doubt in the pension vault. Those with a penchant for freakishly vintage kraut – let’s say the kind that used to come rumbling out of the early 70’s imprint Brain – might just trip over your dropped chin when ‘fat monarch’ rears into ear view. Elsewhere there’s the mournfully stilled and tear stained fog seeped ‘backwoods colour’ glooming in the post apocalyptic haze of a falling sun while those of you preferring your sounds steeled in shrapnel and obtuse angulations might do well to opt for the fried sore thumb that is ‘halo onna Volcano’ while Albert Ayler admirers will do well to drop by at the wig flipped jazz ju-ju that is ‘Cond’. And of course we’d love to say that ‘tubular smells’ is in some way an impish nod to the Oldfield monolith and the album responsible for giving Branson a licence to burn money, but alas it isn’t more so a belching Blair with an unhealthy line in gruesome throat chants is your disquieting treat just for asking. Those still discounting the Volcano’s musical kudos might also do well to check out the spectral chamber noir of ‘medieval bubbles’ which looms large on the added bonus download of stranded final cut no shows which unless ears do deceive very much imagines an Orient decamped Moondog emerging from the primordial soup, while cast your mind back to that sofa we mentioned at the beginning, might be a good idea to make a den at the rear of it for the decidedly unsettling though magnificently prowling atmospherics that flitter apparition like throughout the chillingly ghostly ‘Borzoy Cigarette Box’. Then there’s the skedaddled no wave-ism of ‘hexofun’ and the delightfully lolloping jig ‘the middle farm’ cueing itself upon oodles of pastoral posies in a likeness of John Fahey.
Well we could go and on but I’m gathering you’ve got the picture, we’ll just sign out by saying that aside being one of the nations keynote creative purveyors / alchemists of weird ear gear, their collective mastery is to take the listener by the hand, whether they want it or not, a drop them in a place where they don’t particularly want to be and with that long may they continue to confuse, annoy and delight as they venture on their crooked path with obscurest delight.
Pictures, sounds and ordering information via https://anost.net/en/Products/Volcano-The-Bear-Commencing/
While a selection of the collectives extensive catalogue is available via their recently redecorated band camp page at https://volcanothebear.bandcamp.com/