- Rob Voland, Wide Open Sky
(Self-released, cassette, digital)
The ice across my bedroom window caught sunlight like a mirror, and a beam woke me up at what I frankly consider a rude hour. I'm not exactly sure what happened next, as I was still pulling myself out of a dream, but somehow I turned on the music that I'd fallen asleep listening to.
"E-bow," the seventh track on Rob Voland's Wide Open Sky, spilled out of the AirPods still in my ears. Both confused by the indie rock seemingly manifesting on its own and feeling immediately in tune with Voland's screeching lead guitar, I sat up, vibing way too hard at such an hour.
Perhaps it's odd to lean into a record the same moment one wakes up, but something in Voland's music lends itself to an altered state. And that's not code for Hey, get high and listen to this record. I mean, do what you want, but what I'm talking about is music that alters moods. Music works its magic when it slows you down and pulls you out of everyday life, even for only three minutes or so.
Wide Open Sky excels in that regard. From the panoramic grandeur and slide guitar of "Untitled, With Coyotes" to the lo-fi folk of "Eye to Eye," the record plays out like one long reverie. In keeping with the rest of Voland's catalog, the Burlington musician's latest effort features only sounds he made himself, which might account for the album's cohesive, dreamlike tone.
Making music that leans into atmosphere can backfire without clever arrangements and songwriting variance. Fortunately, Voland attends to both throughout the 11 songs, never allowing the energy to stray too far in any direction. The sequencing is equally masterful, with each song feeling like its own self-contained chapter. The title track is an R.E.M.-on-codeine rocker that sets the tone but not the pace.
Voland's third full-length record is, in many ways, his best. 2018's Quality Loneliness was a stark portrait of heartbreak, an auteur creating a testament to isolation. 2020's Afterglow had a little more edge to it, with flashes of Sonic Youth and Pavement. It isn't accurate to say Wide Open Sky combines the energy of the two, but it does sound like a record with its past firmly referenced in the footnotes.
By the time the final track, "Lake Mountain," was wrapping up the record, I had begrudgingly begun my day. As the distorted, wah-wah-heavy guitar riffed over a frenetic drum beat, I could already feel the waves of everyday life coming in like high tide. Nonetheless, I was grateful for the half-hour-plus of transport Voland provided. Sometimes you just need music that takes you out of your body for a little while.
Order Wide Open Sky on cassette or stream it at robvolandmusic.bandcamp.com.