- Rob Voland, Afterglow
When Rob Voland dropped his last record — the lonesome, sonically adventurous Quality Loneliness — in 2018, the Burlington singer-songwriter had just come through a breakup. The record reflected it, too, as it was chock-full of songs about regret, isolation, heartbreak and all the philosophic wonderings that love gone wrong can bring about. As it happened, when the record hit my desk that winter, a relationship of mine had just flamed out spectacularly. Frankly, I was terrified to grapple with a collection of songs about heartbreak.
I needn't have worried. That album reminded me of how a truly skilled songwriter can make any such fears moot. Yes, the songs made me think of sad memories and painful flights of fancy. But Voland's artistry, skill and emotional acuity allow him to create songs that make you feel like your misery has company.
His latest album, Afterglow, doesn't have quite the same pronounced thematic elements as Quality Loneliness, but there's an uptick in energy. Voland places a little more emphasis on garage and psychedelic indie-rock jams, as on "Rainbows," and shoe-gazing, Pavement-esque numbers such as "James Marshall."
Once again, Voland handles just about everything music-wise, with the exception of "Dream On," which features longtime collaborator Wren Kitz on drums and Hunt Manley on bass. As a one-man production, Voland is more than capable, often building slow-burning, fuzzed-out jams into platforms for his echo-laden voice and dreamy lyrics.
Voland also showcases his guitar chops a bit more on his latest record. Opening instrumental "Sparks" has the feel of an early Doves track — a watery, stumbling jam featuring Voland's guitar shimmering over a lo-fi bed.
At 24 tracks, Afterglow is threaded with a lot of ideas. It's a credit to Voland that the record suffers no slow points or slog tracks, nor does it feel overstuffed. The majority of the songs are under three minutes and, with various instrumental passages, the record moves along at a brisk pace. Much of that feel is due to Voland's ability as a songwriter. It's hard to pin down his songs' DNA, but each has an innate sense of individuality. The tunes can sound detached, aloof and cool, but all the while his melodies and vocal tones lure in the listener.
I will cop to some relief that the new release doesn't have quite the same emotional heaviness as Voland's previous record — and that I myself am not in such a compromised emotional state while listening. While Afterglow definitely has songs as sedate and down-tempo as anything on Quality Loneliness — such as the stunning "Catching Up With Me" — the newer work has more drive and creative energy. There's also a sense of lessons learned. When Voland sings "Careful what you wish for" over and over on "Careful," his voice has a sage-like quality and conveys the feeling of a man who has gone through it and wants to impart some wisdom before he moves on.
Afterglow is a unique record — washed out and vibrant at once. Download it at robvolandmusic.bandcamp.com.