The video for their 2009 single (re-worked here) ‘So Many Lemons’ could act as a manifesto for Volcano! What it might be lacking in production value is more than made up for with a bizarre premise and assault of surreal imagery which is likely to leave you thinking “I don’t know what the fuck is going on here, but I think I like it”. Well, that was my reaction at least; and it’s one which carries on throughout much of their third album Piñata.
Three in, they are still a little rough around the edges and, possibly as a result of that, they’ve never quite got the critical kudos which they deserve. With any luck now may be their time though because their mish-mashing of influences is very much in keeping with the current ADD state of music culture, and probably far more relevant than the critically creamed Indie With Pop Ambition records which have dominated praise in recent years. That’s why records like this ought to be discussed more: Volcano! are a band that are never likely to trouble the mainstream, but that’s perfect because that’s not what they exist for. As pointed out in the TLOBF review of their previous record Paperwork they are basically a post-punk band; there’s no doubting they know how to play, just not by the rules. The range of awkward time signatures and stylistic shifts on show here are testament to that experimental nature.
There is a lot going on in Piñata, but for the most part it manages to remain bold rather than unfocused, largely thanks to the songcraft which steers the madness. Clattering drums, buzzsaw electronics and reeling guitars inexplicably coalesce in the eponymous opener, setting out the stall. The aforementioned previous single encapsulates the joyous nature of the band, but it also underlines what might be their biggest concern. As superficial a problem as it is, Aaron With’s distinctive yelped vocals it occasionally comes off a bit Modest Mouse lite, especially at the moment, half way through, when he collapses into a maniacal laugh.
His uniquely humorous storytelling is something of a saving grace though, like on ‘Child Star’ where With imagines being reborn but retaining his accrued skills and experience so he can excel from a young age; it’s a bit of an unusual song premise but it works. Or there’s ‘St. Mary Of Nazareth’ which takes the listener on a tour of a spaceship disguised as a catholic hospital, where the nurses are nuns and the nuns are aliens. It’s quite good, honestly. For all of their grinning hyperactivity, the band are equally good at mining a little melancholy and the slow reflective nature of ‘Fighter’ is a bona fide highlight here as it builds to an agitated climax.
There are lots of great moments, but ultimately Piñata lacks the cutting edge of memorability. In the moment you can sense the mad rush, like a purging of ideas as songs see-saw back and forth between different styles, and it’s great. Once Piñata ends though, it’s difficult to place a melody or a rhythm amongst all that chaos, and this is what renders it as more of an adrenaline rush, and as an admirable attempt at a great record which inevitably falls short due to the forcing together of too many ideas.