Bon Iver - Bon Iver
User Score
8.4

Universal acclaim- based on 202 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Negative: 11 out of 202

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  1. Jun 21, 2011
    10
    Occasionally, an album comes along and grows into the soundtrack of a specific time and place. Summer, autumn, winter or spring. A particular road trip, adventure or vacation. Love, hate, happiness or sadness. They become the touchstone triggers of our nostalgia, leading our memories down the paths of our past and present. Those albums we could consider "great."

    But what do you classify
    something better than that? For that you'll have to ask Justin Vernon. Because Bon Iver's long-awaited sophomore album isn't just 10 songs with atmosphere, it's a vacation in the stratosphere. It's not just a step forward, but a mad dash on the back of a Scud missile. This album isn't just good, it's great. And it's as close to perfection as you can get before being burned.

    It's been a busy and fruitful three years for Vernon. He struck critical gold with 2008's "For Emma, Forever Ago," a sparse and haunting LP recorded in a freezing backwoods cabin following a breakup with someone presumably named Emma. The album's romantic backstory, coupled with its innovative minimalism, made it incredibly popular throughout indie circles, eventually garnering low spots on many "best of the 2000s" lists.

    If "Emma" was the bitter cold of a blizzard, follow-up EP "Blood Bank" captured the warmth of a cabin fire. In many ways "Blood Bank" was an artistic advancement. Using quicker, shorter steps, it covered much of the same ground - without excess baggage. Then Vernon spent three weeks with Kanye West working on 10 songs that would go toward West's magnum opus, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy." Bon Iver's "Woods" would even be the main sample for that album's epic closer, "Lost in the World."

    Each song on "Bon Iver" crafts an ambient atmosphere both individualistic and homogeneous to the album's greater arc. Footprints of "Blood Bank" and "Emma" can be found here on "Michicant" and "Hinnom, TX." But "Bon Iver" comes with a noticeable influence from the time Vernon spent collaborating with Kanye.

    The minimal sparseness that endeared critics to "Emma" is now replaced with synths, drum rolls, guitars and horns. Songs like "Perth" and "Towers" are beautifully convoluted in their arrangement. Yet as the instrumentation is piled on, it never becomes overwhelming. There is a Spector-esque wall of sound on "Bon Iver," but it is held in check by tasteful moderation.

    Lead single "Calgary" is the album's pre-eminent exposition of electric guitars and drums. Another example of Vernon's vocal talent, it's the most fitting homage to the western Canadian province since Gordon Lightfoot's "Alberta Bound."

    And then there's "Beth/Rest," the album's most enjoyable anomaly. A sprawling masterpiece overwhelmingly influenced by "The Way It Is"-era Bruce Hornsby, "Beth/Rest" is the album's crescendo. The last hurrah of the journey started on "Perth" and finished 40 all-too-quick minutes later.

    "Beth/Rest" goes beyond the album to symbolize Vernon himself. For many of his fans, channeling Bruce Hornsby seems an ironic gesture - a bow to the subset of indie culture that bastardizes nostalgia they never experienced with a sarcasm that degrades its intrinsic value. But there is nothing ironic about Bon Iver or Justin Vernon. From "Mandolin Rain"-inspired songs to performing Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me" on prime time television, Vernon has proven himself the antithesis of an ironist. He might be the darling of indie culture, but he's not wearing his nostalgia because it's funny.

    In an era dictated by the amount of glitter and mascara on a performer's face, or their ability to push envelopes toward commercial dividends, "Bon Iver" is not an album that 2011 deserves. But it's certainly one that our culture of reboots and copycats needs. It's not just a great album. It's an album that defines the idea of music's potential, and highlights that potential's limitlessness. It shows us what a generation weened on the culture of yore can still achieve on its own accord.

    "Bon Iver" splits the difference between restraint and excess, and in the process finds a healthy ambition often lacking in so many sophomore albums. It takes what was and uses it to move toward what could be. It is the musical version of what James Earl Jones meant in "Field of Dreams" when he said baseball "reminds of us of all that once was good and could be again." In the land of Madonna copycats and misplaced sax solos, there is finally an album giving us hope that the heart of musical originality beats on.
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  2. Jun 21, 2011
    5
    My bottom line: I can't back Vernon's Kenny G moment. And Minnesota - WI is the only really tasty track on the disc.

    Two things that are similar between this and Emma (which is my album of 2008) - There are no crazy acrobatic melodies, no avant-garde chords, it's all kept pretty nice and simple. The difference between them is that Emma sort of floats above your head like a sepia-tone
    dream, while Bon Iver sinks into an icy lake of crystalline-timbre instrumentation. For me, Bon Iver's tasty, tangible creativity couldn't keep up with his inevitable sonic shift.

    Three things:

    Most of those critics have no idea what they're talking about, chasing some x-factor around the grooves in order to back the guy that made us cry with Emma.

    I love Minnesota - WI. It's the most invitingly textured track. And it avoids the miserably executed pastel horns. If one thing could turn the crank a little harder, it would be a bit of extra bass when the verse comes back in with the crunchy synth.

    Beth/Rest - In a popular music season where 70s/80s throwback grooves seem to be finding all of my favourite artists (mostly to great effect), this one stands alone as the most audacious and the most embarrassingly terrible. Don't try to pin naivete on me - the e. piano is only the cherry on top. A tip, Justin - when your fingers touch a piano, they invoke the most cliched of cliches. The sus releases, in particular, are enough to make me cringe. Horns in the wrong places, pedal steel crying for the wrong reasons...

    So, you took a big risk and it didn't work out for me. Better than being a banal fool. I will wait three more years if I have to to get your next record.
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  3. Jun 21, 2011
    5
    This sounds like an amalgamation of yacht rock, folk, and James Blake but with none of the positives of any of 'em. There's no experimentation. There's no hooks. It's good enough to not want to turn off once it's on, but it's not good enough to actively want to listen to. It's easy listening that goes nowhere
  4. Jun 26, 2011
    8
    It's an album that requires a time and a place. It isn't universal enough to be replayed at any given moment, but when it's right, it's the perfect choice. The self-titled album is more than likely what Justin Vernon wanted to do originally with his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago. He considered those songs demos until they exploded on the internet and on various television shows. There are some strong songs on this album, even if sometimes they feel like they aren't going anywhere. And sometimes they don't. Expand
  5. Jun 21, 2011
    0
    Justin! I want to hear your voice reverb over and over. I suppose I'll be happy, as long as, people stop citing Vernon as a great songwriter (comparisons to Dylan??) In a year or two no one will probably mention this album or even be listening to it - until the next indie masterpiece!
  6. Jun 21, 2011
    4
    Some of the instrumentation is cool and the singing has some decent hooks. But after a couple songs, his white boys soul thing starts to grate, and god damn if Beth/Rest isn't the worst, cheesiest song of the year.
  7. Jun 21, 2011
    10
    The perfect follow up to a perfect album. Although this album does not come with the legend associated with the first, Vernon and company are able to successfully go from isolation to rebirth and paint listeners a vivid picture this time not only with the lyrics but with the music as well. The album also brings with it a perfect flow and can keep the listener intrigued through intense musical breakdowns and slower prayer type numbers. I would say this follow up is unbelievable, but Justin Vernon seems to be able to do no wrong in music. Stand out tracks for me personally include: "Perth" "Holocene" "Calgary" and "Beth/Rest." Pick this album up now. Expand
  8. Jun 23, 2011
    3
    Probably one of the most boring musicians I have ever had the opportunity to endure. The songs are painfully beige, lacking of any emotion or creativity and totally forgettable.
  9. Aug 14, 2012
    10
    Whereas "For Emma, Forever Ago" was an intensely close experience, the songs piercingly personal, the atmosphere reverberating off the walls of the cabin that the majority of the songs were recorded in, "Bon Iver" is breathtakingly grand and majestic. The soft guitars in opener "Perth" bring to my mind a painter trying to capture dawn subtly breaking, dragging his brush tinted purple with watercolor across his canvas, adding specks of orange as they briefly crescendo, then fade again before a veritable orchestra flares with the intensity of the sun.

    I'm sorry if that came across as pretentiously poetic, but that's the literal mental image I have for the song, and for that matter, the entire album. For someone who loves the outdoors, this album captures the raw beauty of nature for me, especially in the crushingly beautiful "Holocene", where Vernon delivers the line "And I could see for miles, miles, miles" with such yearning in his voice that even though I have no idea what he's referring to, I feel an ache in my heart too.

    Basically, if there was one sentence that I would use to describe this album, it would be that I was stunned the first time I slid the CD into my car on the drive home from purchasing it, and I'm still stunned today. I love this album.
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  10. Aug 29, 2011
    9
    This album WOULD be 10/10 if Forever Emma did not exist and this was the first, fresh blast of originality from bon iver. I'd say it's as good as Forever Emma, but it is very similar in tone, though the production and instruments used are more varied and complex - but without being forced or over done. Excellent album!
  11. Dec 21, 2011
    10
    amazing album. The self-titled album is more than likely what Justin Vernon wanted to do originally with his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago. He considered those songs demos until they exploded on the internet and on various television shows +1 perfect!
  12. Oct 10, 2013
    10
    This is a very easy review to write. Bon Iver has created another great album. The music of Bon Iver is possibly the best music in history, so that's all there is to say about it. Hope Justin Vernon comes out with more!
  13. Aug 17, 2012
    10
    This is a great album, probably even better than For Emma, Forever Ago. It is, in many ways, a very immediate album, with gorgeous melodies that hit the listener instantly and excellent production that lends it a clean feeling. But it can also be a slow-building album. It may take a while for some listeners to wrap their heads around the deliberately cheesy 80s-homage that is "Beth/Rest," but once they do so they'll find that the song buried inside stands out as one of the best on the album. The album is sequenced excellently, with songs flowing into one another and feeling interconnected without ever being same-y and boring. The buildup of the slow, haunting opener "Perth" gets paid off in the frantic, almost country-esque "Minnesota, WI" (which, surprisingly, features Justin Vernon singing in a rich baritone rather than his usual falsetto). "Michican't," "Hinnom, TX," and "Wash" feel like one long alternate-reality indie-folk version of "Bohemian Rhapsody." The closing one-two punch of "Calgary" and "Beth/Rest" contains some of the most brilliant work Bon Iver has ever done. If you're the sort of person who doesn't like slow songs or sad songs this probably isn't the album for you, but if you're of a more mellow disposition or simply appreciate all kinds of music, this is worth checking out. The standout track, in my opinion, would be "Calgary," but the general public seems to prefer "Holocene," so make what you will of that. Expand
  14. Jan 25, 2012
    9
    Bon Iver's sophomore album sounds like Justin Vernon coming out of the woods and out of the "For Emma, Forever Ago" stage. Bon Iver is officially a band that needs to be reckoned with. The instrumentals swoon on this album. Justin Vernon's falsetto is just as gorgeous, if not more, than For Emma. Bon Iver, Bon Iver may not be as fantastic as their debut album, but it's pretty damn close. A-
  15. Jun 21, 2013
    10
    I originally gave this 9 but I had to come back and top up. I don't think I will ever get bored of this amazing collection of ethereal gems. I can't find a flaw with this record its become one my favourite albums ever. The songwriting here is second to none, if I had to pick favourite tracks then Holocene, Perth and Beth/Rest are beautiful, however so is every other track.
  16. Apr 8, 2014
    10
    This is an amazing album. It took me over a year to like it though. I had scored it 0. I couldnt get it. Stuck on a plane for too many hours and listening to it made me realise what i missed. Its epic.
  17. Dec 30, 2011
    9
    Bon Iver is far from being an accessible band. In fact, the first time you listen to their sophomore efforts, you may become very discouraged from their high falsettos. But once you get used to their old-school, light synth-heavy sounds, the album becomes increasingly enjoyable every time you listen to it. It's a surprisingly rewarding record that easily goes down as one of the bests from 2011.
  18. Sep 26, 2011
    8
    I've struggled a little with this one, but eventually I've be won over. Perth, Holocene and Wash are simply outstanding pieces of music. Calgary is simply beautiful. There are some missteps here most notably Beth/Rest which had me looking around to see if Magnum PI had just driven by, it was dripping with a horrific (to me) 80s American sound, it nearly but not quite ruined the whole experience.
  19. Jul 1, 2011
    10
    Near perfect album, in my opinion. Bon Iver perfectly meshed his classic melancholy folk sound with other genres in a way that doesn't change too much, while still changing enough to hold interest. Some judge the album off of the last song, which I think is ridiculous. I happen to love the last song, but that's not why I enjoy the album. Each song holds onto it's own quite well. Great album by a great artist, and I look forward to hearing more from them in the future. Expand
  20. Jun 23, 2011
    9
    Beautiful, calm, and creative. This is the perfect album to listen to while outside in your easy chair on a breezy summer day. Every song comes with a combination of creative lyrics and catchy beats. The must hear songs of the album are "Perth", "Minnesota, WI", "Towers", "Michicant", "Hinnom, TX", and "Calgary". This is one album that you should have in your iTunes library or with the rest of your CDs. Expand
  21. Jul 23, 2011
    8
    i liked this whole album it was decent. it had some good songs. it was a good folk album. if your not a folk music person don't even write an review for this. your just being an hater and a **** solid album
  22. Jun 21, 2011
    9
    When Emma Forever Ago came out, and I finally gave it a listen I was so overcome with emotion just from listening to a few songs on there such "Skinny Love" "For Emma" "Flume" and many more songs. Every time a difficult occurrence came up in my life where sometimes I thought it was too much to handle, I'd throw this album on and all my emotion would be expressed from the voice of Justin Vernon. So when this album came out I was expecting more of the same, maybe "better" produced, but I was wrong. This time Justin comes in with an assortment of strings and even synths, a full band on some songs, and though this might've left me skeptical at first, I ended up loving this album. This album is beautiful. A great album to play while you lay on your hammock or are just sitting back and relaxing. The emotions from the first album are still here, but there is a much bigger sound. There was so much beauty in "Emma, Forever Ago" and I wouldn't say the emotion and beauty has improved since, but I think it's evolved into something new while still capturing those two elements which Justin Vernon's so good at. Expand
  23. Jun 22, 2011
    10
    This album deserves nothing but amazing reviews. I've been looking forward to this for a while now and was nothing but impressed. Hopefully seeing them in August in either DC or Philly!
  24. Jun 21, 2011
    10
    This is a gorgeous album. It's complex and beautiful. I don't think it's the easiest album to get in to, but certainly worth listening to at least 100 times before being too down on it.
  25. Jun 21, 2011
    10
    I guess it's not for everyone. I love it, and I think the layered synths mark a suprisingly natural progression for the band--still intimate, but not cloistered.
  26. Jun 29, 2011
    9
    A very relaxing, nicely composed album. This album has been an enjoyable listen every time. Not quite as good as "For Emma, Forever Ago," his first album, but that is a very high standard to live up to. He really delivered with this album.
  27. Aug 9, 2011
    9
    Bon Iver return for their second album and oh what a wonderful album it is. It doesn't just sound like a collection of songs thrown together but a cohesive piece of art from start to finish. Kudos to Bon Iver
  28. Jul 3, 2011
    4
    I have decided after all these years of following metacritic to join the user review group. I must listen to a new cd every week. My drug is music .The reason to join this group of reviewers is because of Bon Iver. I tried many times to listen and understand this cd but no luck. Its just simply over rated and maybe its the voice but I just don't understand him. The music is very good but I will give them a chance to listen to this group live , how could everyone be wrong maybe live they sound better.....Puzzled Expand
  29. Dec 24, 2011
    10
    The greatest band you're not listening to. Every song has a meaning - and all of the lyrics are poetic and daring. You will never hear them on the radio as their songs require to much attention and thought to really grasp the universal greatness that they posses.
  30. Jul 5, 2011
    5
    I really don't think I've ever had so many mixed feelings about an album before. One one hand, all the songs sound kinda the same. But on the other hand, all the songs are pretty good. Now I'm the kinda guy who can't stand artists whose songs all sound the same. But they're all pretty alright songs. I
    'm just glad this is my biggest stress factor right now...
Metascore
86

Universal acclaim - based on 43 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 40 out of 43
  2. Negative: 0 out of 43
  1. 90
    Bon Iver sounds distinctively matured and alive on Bon Iver: an album that even still, in the late winter, months after its release sounds magical.
  2. Sep 9, 2011
    90
    In an industry flooded with trumpeted artists not worth their weight in salt, Bon Iver's abstract ruminations more than warrant the hype.
  3. Aug 3, 2011
    90
    Akin to For Emma, Bon Iver breaks the listener's heart. And to experience an album (an oft-dreaded sophomore album, no less) that evokes such deep emotion is a welcomed pain.