- 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 18, 2011I honestly didn't think For Emma could be beat, but this self-titled gem showed just how much more Justin Vernon is capable of. As a saxI honestly didn't think For Emma could be beat, but this self-titled gem showed just how much more Justin Vernon is capable of. As a sax player, I have some serious appreciation for his use of the Bass Saxophone (played by awesome Canadian Jazz man, Colin Stetson), and Bon Iver's use of horns in general. This album somehow seamlessly weaves jazz and folk music without sounding either elitist or hokey. The only out of place song for me was Beth/Rest, reminding me a bit too much of 80's Christian artist, Michael W Smith... but it actually grew on me somehow. A lovely record that will find a home in my living room and on my headphones for a long time to come.… Expand
Oct 10, 2013This 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, soThis 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!… Expand
Jul 26, 2011Absolutely stunning album. While listening to this second full length album from Bon Iver, there is a sense of space and atmosphere that isAbsolutely stunning album. While listening to this second full length album from Bon Iver, there is a sense of space and atmosphere that is very difficult to explain. This sense can only be felt from listening to the entire album; start to finish. Overall, it is an unreal album that needs to be listened! 9/10… Expand
Jan 25, 2012Bon Iver's sophomore album sounds like Justin Vernon coming out of the woods and out of the "For Emma, Forever Ago" stage. Bon Iver isBon 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-… 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 theAlthough 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 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.
Awards & Rankings
|Skeleton Tree - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds|
|Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976) [Box Set] - David Bowie|
|You Want It Darker - Leonard Cohen|
|American Band - Drive-By Truckers|
|Stranger Things, Vol. 1 [Original Television Series Soundtrack] - Kyle Dixon|
|Coloring Book [Mixtape] - Chance the Rapper|
|A Seat at the Table - Solange|
|Dissociation - The Dillinger Escape Plan|
|Close to the Noise Floor: Formative UK Electronica 1975-1984 [Box Set] - Various Artists|
|A Moon Shaped Pool - Radiohead|
|Demon City - Elysia Crampton|
|Blonde - Frank Ocean|
|My Woman - Angel Olsen|
|Kodama - Alcest|
|Live at the Hollywood Bowl - The Beatles|
|Puberty 2 - Mitski|
|You Will Never Be One of Us - NAILS|
|The Complete BBC Sessions [Remastered] - Led Zeppelin|
|A Place Called Bad [Box Set] - Scientists|
|II - The Early Years|