- 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
Nov 12, 2011This album is without doubt one of the best I have ever listened to. The way you can discover something new upon each listen is mesmerising and goes to show the sheer amount of effort and pure musical talent that went into the album. There is not a faultless track, with each offering a range of unique sounds alongside deeper meaning upon close listening. Listening to this transports you to a place of brilliant scenery which has never been achieved before personally. For those who dislike this or simply don't get it, check out professional reviews, as they speak volumes and show just how amazing this peice of music really is.… Expand
Aug 17, 2012This 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
Jun 23, 2011Beautiful, 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
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 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
Jul 2, 2011I don't get it. This is getting great reviews so i tried and tried to 'get into it'. Maybe i am missing something. To me its awful. Not even one redeeming quality. If i was to get one track from it, i would be happy, but its all the same. Useless. I cant even give it a 1. Delete, delete, delete.… 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.
|Sound System [Box Set] - The Clash|
|The Warner Bros. Years [Box Set] - Steve Earle|
|American Radical Patriot [Box Set] - Woody Guthrie|
|Live at the Academy of Music 1971 - The Band|
|Sunbather - Deafheaven|
|Higher! [Box Set] - Sly & the Family Stone|
|The Island Years [Box Set] - John Martyn|
|Spaces - Nils Frahm|
|The Finer Things - The State Champs|
|Moondance [Deluxe Edition] - Van Morrison|
|12 Stories - Brandy Clark|
|Loud City Song - Julia Holter|
|Memorial - Russian Circles|
|In Utero [20th Anniversary Edition] - Nirvana|
|The RCA Albums Collection - Harry Nilsson|
|Southeastern - Jason Isbell|
|Virgins - Tim Hecker|
|All Hail West Texas [Reissued] - The Mountain Goats|
|Is Survived By - Touche Amore|
|American Ride - Willie Nile|