- Summary: The Wisconsin-based indie folk band, fronted by singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, follows up its highly acclaimed For Emma, Forever Ago with a new album.
- Record Label: Jagjaguwar
- Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
- More Details and Credits »
Q MagazineJun 7, 2011The Wisconsin outsider stretches horizons on mesmeric second album. [July 2011, p. 108]
May 25, 2011Like Radiohead and Panda Bear before Bon Iver this year, it's not a problem that Vernon hasn't created music in the same style of the last successful album: the problem is that he isn't able to make that creative jump to a new aesthetic, or direction, successfully at all.
Jun 21, 2011Occasionally, an album comes along and grows into the soundtrack of a specific time and place. Summer, autumn, winter or spring. A particularOccasionally, 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.… Expand
Dec 7, 2011Even better than the last album. Less hidden in the woods, more in the open, with bits and piece from a wide range of influences and sounds.Even better than the last album. Less hidden in the woods, more in the open, with bits and piece from a wide range of influences and sounds. This is not an album that can be labeled as one thing. It is plural, and it is good !… Expand
Jun 21, 2013I 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. II 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.… Expand
Jun 29, 2011A very relaxing, nicely composed album. This album has been an enjoyable listen every time. Not quite as good as "For Emma, Forever Ago," hisA 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.… Expand
Dec 30, 2011Bon Iver is far from being an accessible band. In fact, the first time you listen to their sophomore efforts, you may become very discouragedBon 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.… Expand
Jul 31, 2011I thought this album was a more upbeat (at times) and more all-around enjoyable than "Emma". Although I am partial to the acoustic soundI thought this album was a more upbeat (at times) and more all-around enjoyable than "Emma". Although I am partial to the acoustic sound compared to synth and electronic sound of most of the album, I found myself wanting to listen to this more for its tempo and its tracks ability to grow on me.… Expand
Jun 21, 2011Justin! 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 songwriterJustin! 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!… Expand
Published: November 29, 2011Between now and January, we'll be collecting top 10 lists published by major music critics, publications, and websites, and tallying their cumulative picks to determine the best albums of 2011. Check back here daily to get an updated scorecard.
Published: May 10, 2011We've selected 25 of the biggest albums arriving between now and September, including new discs from Death Cab for Cutie, Lady Gaga, My Morning Jacket, Lil Wayne, Jane's Addiction, and more. Plus, listen to full tracks from each album.
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