Music Reviews




The third recording by one-man-band Justin Vollmar begins on a cloying, understated note with “Abby,” coming off like early, doomy New Order executed with the earthiness of first-album Crosby, Stills and Nash. The gentle drumming is almost jazzy, while quiet one-note synths and minimal guitar lurk behind a simple bassline and Vollmar’s carefully enunciated lyrics. And this sort of melancholy, eccentric vision defines the rest of Okay, packed with enough imagination and understanding of the healing/hurting power of memories and small town noir to rejuvenate the lo-fi indie rock template. Okay is an album that continues to delight, even though the songs of Vollmar are strictly for twilit lovers and anyone who just can’t… get… over… it.

Vollmar uses the usual tools of the popmusick trade (guitars-bass-drums), augmenting a gentle, quiet voice that calls to mind Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and Robert Forster (of the Go-Betweens), but with a healthy disregard for usual conventions of song, some judicious use of synths and negative space as an important element of his sonic palette, Vollmar achieves oft-stunning results. Country music, space rock, chamber music, experimental palettes, (gimme) indie rock, ancient folksongs and spare balladry all jostle for prime of place in Vollmar’s fervent imagination. None of the above gain total sway and the album melds into a satisfying thematic whole given certain lyrical conceits, like almost half the songs being dedicated to a mysterious Sue. Like how the extended and enigmatic “Bus Stop Sue” sounds more like a band warming up than an actual song, with the only lyrics being apologies to Sue (but then there’s a whole different number, a folky vamp just called “Sorry Sue” and more apologies in “Waiting Up For Sue”). Or the weird drum circle-as-toy orchestra percussion that drives “The Girl From Here To There” working in tandem with a courtly organ line and Vollmar’s whispery voice. Besides the title track though, the first element of Okay that really rattled me, that really grabbed me, was the point in “Confessions Out of Line” when the “song part” stops and over a minimalist drum and bass drone Vollmar just lets loose with over two minutes of gently cascading feedback lines that sound unbelievably intimate and natural. This one’s for the rewind button. “Pony Man” follows a number of sombre, acoustic laments and sounds like a full-band Sebadoh number from III period, with added wind chimes. Closer “Mtn. Problem/Insert” starts out like a delicate transmission from the great beyond, before lapsing into a somewhat jaunty groove and finally ending with found sounds that might be oceans crashing against breakers, strong wind ruffling a grassy field or radio static.

Now I might be projecting, but I get the feeling of tremendous isolation here, just in the sonics of the record itself, the unbearable spaces between notes and chords, even before the lyrics, there is a sense of empty streets, warm light coming out of a neighbor’s distant window, leaves falling on the sidewalk in autumn. No? Deal with it.

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