Bon Iver

Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Written by: DR on 11/07/2011 21:15:52

There's something compelling about the tale of the sick and broken-hearted man who retreated to his father's cabin in the woods during a cold winter of Wisconsin and ended up recording an album. Although all Justin Vernon really had at it his disposal was himself, the cabin, guitars and some aged recording equipment, out of it all culminated "For Emma, Forever Ago". Vernon exposed himself and his personal torture through airy falsetto atop simple acoustic chords and the atmosphere of his surroundings, resulting in an album that envelops the listener in his isolation. It remains, in my eyes, the perfect winter album.

With the follow up EP, "Blood Bank", Vernon edged away from that intimate acoustic sound and drew more from textured electric guitars, piano and vocal effects. In a way "Bon Iver, Bon Iver" feels like the next natural step for Bon Iver, now a band as opposed to a pseudonym, as it further delves into even richer textures composed by layers of picturesque, minimalistic instrumentation, provided by a plethora of contributing musicians. However, it's also an ambitious departure because where formerly stripped-back, this album reaches for the epic, succeeds, and then some.

From the opening moments of "Perth", as carefully-plucked guitars set the foundation for a choir of angelic vocals and Civil-war styled marching drums, it becomes clear that the listener is store for something special. The song gathers momentum, cymbals crash, introducing triumphant horn sections while the guitars take a frenzied, psychedelic turn and within a flurry are gone, allowing the song to fade away as beautifully as it faded in. It's nothing short of breath-taking how such an array of guest-instrumentalists (and instruments) are utilized, all seemingly operating independently of one another, yet all intertwine under the careful, masterful hand of Vernon.

The guitar and horn sections in the off-kilter "Minnesota, WI" alternate between the sultry and the spacious, as Vernon's voice seamlessly switches between a rare occurrence of an unusual 'normal' voice (for him) and his regular falsetto. It doesn't even sound awkward or forced in the slightest; it instead sounds totally assured and oddly-confident for someone has so far made his career on being anything but.

As much as he has played up the band aspect of Bon Iver of late, it's still Vernon's project at heart. While his song-writing and vocals aren't particularly immediate, they grow massively on the listener, and therefore so does the album as a whole. His already otherworldly falsetto reaches new heights in "Holocene", making the imagery in fairly simple lyrics like "and at once I knew I was not magnificent / strayed above the highway aisle / (jagged vacance, thick with ice) / I could see for miles, miles, miles" seem, well, magnificent.

Songs like "Michicant" and "Wash." are more sonically open than they are meticulously constructed tapestries, comprising of minimalistic instrumentation and Vernon's voice melting gorgeously into the bare soundscapes. You could spend your entire 2011 searching, and you wouldn't find a song as endearing as "Wash.". With these it's as though Vernon is exposing more of himself, particularly as he begins "Michicant" pensively with "I was unafraid, I was a boy, I was a tender age / melic in the naked, knew a lake and drew the lofts for page / hurdle all the waitings up, know it wasn’t wedded love".

The closing trio of songs "Calgary", "Lisbon, OH" and "Beth/Rest" are just sublime, and the perfect metaphor for Vernon slowly emerging from those now famous woods. "Calgary" begins coldly with icy-synths and confused vocals, but is gradually thawed by the songs progression, as Vernon's vocals become more positive, hand-in-hand with warm guitar-work. Closer "Beth/Rest" is an unashamed throwback to 80s soft-rock; it will take a few listens to grow on you, but when it does you'll eventually learn to appreciate it for what it is: a completely sincere love-ballad which ends the album on a glorious high.

If its predecessor is the sound of winter, then "Bon Iver, Bon Iver" is the sound of spring. It's Justin Vernon leaving behind those lonely woods and the loss they represent, and stepping back into the 'real' world, more confident and more composed. Rather than argue about which album is better, or moan about this not being "For Emma, Forever Ago part two", can't we just instead appreciate this album for what it is: spectacularly brilliant.

Download: Perth, Holocene, Calgary, Beth/Rest
For The Fans of: Bon Iver
Listen: Myspace

Release Date 21.06.2011
4AD

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