By: Heather Seidler
Bon Iver – Bohemian Bon Vivant of Wisconsin
A lot has happened to Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, in the four years since his first album For Emma, Forever Ago was released, one of the most beloved and magnificent indie-folk albums of the ‘00s. The least of which was when Kanye West handpicked Vernon to sing and co-write with him on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This week Vernon released his highly anticipated self-titled sophomore effort Bon Iver, Bon Iver.
I wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly how I felt while still in the midst of first listening to that much anticipated new album. It certainly was not that I wasn’t feeling anything—it’s just that I was stuck transfixed for somewhere near fifty-five minutes. In trying to ascertain just what exactly my initial review of this album was, only one thing was clear: I had to sit with the album on repeat throughout the night as I tried to flesh things out, let the mood distill itself as it had immediately with For Emma. As with any Radiohead album, it isn’t music made for a hurried listen. I knew I had to live inside the magnitude of it for a bit. After several run-throughs, the layers slowly settled like a soft cloak around me. There were only a few songs on Bon Iver’s eponymous release that followed the same insular blueprint as For Emma…long gone is the heartbroken man left alone in a cabin with his memories and a guitar. What remains is his silky falsetto and lush burlap rhythms, fastened thread-like to elaborate prog-folk melodies which amount to a perfectly orchestrated sonic garment for me to get lost in, wear everyday and lend to all my friends so that they too can experience the exploration.
It is an extraordinary album. Recorded in a converted animal hospital in Wisconsin, ten tracks written over three years, Bon Iver reaches new levels of emotional and melodic sincerity, rarely found in music today. The lyrics are just as veiled and ruminative as before, building their own polarizing atmospheres and subliminally transporting you there. Melodic atmospheres so enchanting they’ve created their own gravitational pull that sucks in anyone who really listens. As near perfect as For Emma was, I’m glad Vernon isn’t repeating himself, and in the best way possible he has diverged from being a sad sack and evolved his woodsy sound without losing the ambiance his fans have grown to cherish. Bon Iver has a more rich and impressive sound, full of haunting harmonies that slide under the surface of reflective lyrics. It’s not so much a change of style as it is a progressive revolution of sound. That isn’t to say that the indier fans will love every track, they particularly may find the deviant album closer Beth/Rest a tad too foreign for their tastes. However, the songs Wash and Holocene are guided by the same unrivaled delicacy as most of the tracks on his debut and therefore are likely to stand out, as they will for me for years to come.
“You can only be as good as the love you’re able to muster,” Vernon says. “So much of the shit we do is honest, but it’s compromised. I don’t think this record is compromised at all.”
As one critic put it—If there’s a person out there who slept through 2008 and is listening to this without any expectations, this could be their favorite album of 2011.