Volante – 45 Degrees North

45 Degrees North

Volante force one to consider an important factor in considering the worth, talent, and relevancy of a band: geography. This my friend, is because Volante sound not like they come from Minneapolis, home of deer, the Replacements, Husker Du and Prince. Instead, Volante sound exactly like many of the fine bands that another city, Washington, DC, has turned out in the last two decades. Quite frankly, both cities have a somewhat distinguished tradition of great punk rock: the aforementioned bands from the Twin Cities, and Fugazi, Jawbox, Dag Nasty, and Minor Threat (among countless other luminaries). The truly amazing thing is, while other scenes (Seattle in particular) have been bastardized from coast to coast, the DC scene has remained somewhat isolated, though its influences have shown up everywhere from Sunny Day Real Estate to At the Drive-In. So does Volante receive extra points for effectively bringing the DC sound out of DC and into the great white north?

Truth be told, Volante actually sound best when they’re combining DC’s trademark sound with some facets of their hometown scene (namely, melody). On their lesser songs, they sound like a note for note rip of countless DC bands, and while this certainly does not mean bad music, they do not quite capture the innovation and tension of Fugazi (and this is hardly their fault, since no one has). While the quartet did manage to lure the excellent production skills of the famed J. Robbins, rarely do they break from traditional tempos or time signatures (perhaps another sign that they have retained some of their Minnesota roots). Bassist/vocalist Gabriel Shapiro’s voice ranges everywhere from an almost girlish tenor (“Sounding”) to a very Fugazi-ish bark (“Raze,” “Fight Song”). The band is capable of producing both the start/stop riffing akin to Jawbox and the chugging power chord progressions more prone to actual melody and songwriting. All of this contributes to the odd chemistry that make’s Volante’s debut full-length interesting, if not entirely original.

The obvious Fugazi rips are the hardest to listen to, both because you’ve heard them before and because they aren’t quite up to Fugazi standards. “Common Elemental,” “Raze,” and “Fight Song” all fill up that category. The other, more diverse songs, however, are quite excellent. “Sounding” opens the album with an absolutely killer riff, a dissonant, resounding guitar bashing notes over a progression, before the song settles into a more singable groove. “Hum” also opens with a great riff, this one melodic and explosive. The band whips up a nice guitar froth as Shapiro talks Slint-style over the verse and yells “my brain is the engine” over the chorus.
“Watching Sita Burn” slows things down a bit, as the band builds on a quiet dissonance, never quite dropping into the impending bombast. “Arms to Fly” is yet another excellent track, picking up where Sunny Day Real Estate left off after Diary. Opening with chiming, melodic chords, then moving into a tense verse that alternates plinking guitars and big, full chords, the song is one of the most unique on the album. The chorus is a sweetly sung ode to some “angel,” the significance of which is never made totally clear. The album ends with the magnificent “Broken but Clean,” a rambling tour de force that again strikes a stunning balance between violent, doomed verses and wall-of-sound, shouted choruses.

When all things are considered, Volante is least interesting when it does its best DC impressions (though it does a remarkable job – as well or better as some of the young DC bands playing today). When it mixes things up and adds melody, melodic riffs and some pleasant vocals, they come off sounding pretty excellent. At their worst, they’re a pretty decent Fugazi cover band, and at their best, they offer a fresh and welcome take on a scene that has been insulated for far too long. If Volante can put together an entire album of songs like “Arms to Fly” and “Hum,” watch out. No map in the world would be able to stop them.