- 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 »
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 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
Feb 20, 2013Yes, Bon Iver did it again. An improvement from their previous album. With soothing and ambient settings in the songs, this is their best. Original and trying something new, I did not expect it to be that good. But now, my mind is set. Perth was a great song, starting with a arm-style movement, followed by soothing sounds in Minnesota, WI. Holocene is calm and gentle, followed by Towers and Michicant respectively, all calm and nice. Then there was the best moment, Hinnom, TX. 'And in Hinnom'. The best song ever. The greatest experimentation with superb vocals. Then the seabreeze Wash., calm tensions. Then Calgary, a nice emotional song. Follow by Lisbon, OH and Beth/Rest, the final ending worth listening. The best album of that year. And Hinnom, TX, the best song ever!… Expand
Dec 13, 2011What a strange little album. It's quite different from anything I've heard before or religiously listen to, but all the good reviews and hearing the infectious beginning of "Perth" accompanied with its deluxe music video got me to purchase this album. The first time I listened to it, I remember feeling like I was floating, entranced in a blissful state. It sounds so beautiful and though Justin Vernon's falsetto tone cracks at times, it belongs with the music well. I love how he can go from such a high pitch to one so low and atmospheric that it vibrates your brain like on "Minnesota, WI". Every song is more gorgeous than the last, highlights including "Perth", "Holocene", "Towers", "Michicant", and "Calgary". The only overall problem I have with this album is that most of the time I can't understand a lick of what Justin is saying. This might be just me, but he mumbles a lot through these songs. I have printed out the lyrics though, and they'll aid me in my next Bon Iver listening session. I am glad I purchased this gem, because there are certainly none like it and "Holocene" is just too beautiful to pass up. I haven't really gotten into "Beth/Rest" yet, but maybe actually knowing what the lyrics are will aid me.… Expand
Nov 9, 2011Although this record doesn't have the same magic the For Emma.. one thing that has to be acknowledged is Bon Iver's refusal to dish out the same again. The production feels a bit soulless and it just lacks the spirit that was present in its predecessor. Overall it's still a very good record but the first half of it is much stronger than the second. It really fades off into limbo a bit towards the end. It will be very interesting to see where this band goes next.… 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 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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