Universal acclaim - based on 43 Critic Reviews

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 40 out of 43
  2. Negative: 0 out of 43
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  1. Jun 24, 2011
    he 10 unconventionally structured songs are less shaky-tent-in-a-snowstorm and more ambitious-skyscraper-blasting-into-the sky.
  2. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is Vernon's triumphant re-emergence from those lonely woods back into the world.
  3. Jun 22, 2011
    It's at once majestic and gentle, a deep breath and a sigh that declares Vernon's transcendence of the turmoil and technique of his unique breakout record and establishes him as an artist who knows exactly what he's doing. Hallelujah.
  4. Jun 16, 2011
    Bon Iver remains rooted in the emotional sincerity that made Vernon's debut so mesmerising.
  5. Uncut
    Jun 3, 2011
    Fully realised in its ambition, Bon Iver possesses all the austere beauty and understated emotiveness of its predecessor. [Jul 2011, p.81]
  6. Jun 20, 2011
    It's a rare thing for an album to have such a strong sense of what it wants to be. Bon Iver is about flow, from one scene and arrangement and song and memory and word into the next-- each distinct but connected-- all leading to "Beth/Rest".
  7. Jun 21, 2011
    But for all its introspection, Bon Iver feels a lot more open than Vernon's previous work, the sound of a lonely guy taking his first steps into a larger world.
  8. 91
    On Bon Iver, his second full-length, an emboldened Vernon achieves a beautiful fantasy all his own, backed by a full band and buoyed with horns and pedal steel.
  9. 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.
  10. Sep 9, 2011
    In an industry flooded with trumpeted artists not worth their weight in salt, Bon Iver's abstract ruminations more than warrant the hype.
  11. Aug 3, 2011
    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.
  12. Jun 29, 2011
    Where For Emma, Forever Ago thrived on its sparseness, the new record's sound is richly and carefully layered.
  13. Jun 28, 2011
    Vernon seems torn between selling his lyrics and using his voice as just another emotional cue in the thick mix. But if you're looking for an album to get lost in, who knew a guy previously feted for stripped-down "realness" would provide the year's best?
  14. Jun 22, 2011
    The album is a shoo-in for being a timeless great, no matter what we say. Vernon's got the magic touch. But it's lacking that original sense of urgency that flowed so freely in and out of For Emma, making it so genuine and so incredibly listenable.
  15. Jun 21, 2011
    "Emma" was gorgeous in its austerity, but its follow-up is staggering for its vision. Bon Iver's self-titled sophomore release will go down as one of this year's most arresting albums, drunk on its own impressionistic charms and oblivious to anyone's expectations but Vernon's.
  16. Jun 21, 2011
    It retains the beautiful melancholy of For Emma, but in nearly every way, it's just more. More layered, more diverse, more interesting.
  17. The mood of uplifting-melancholia survives and this time out Vernon needs no dramatic backstory. Clearly, his is a talent that loves company as much as it loves misery.
  18. Jun 17, 2011
    One of 2011's most absorbing, affecting and downright brilliant LPs.
  19. May 25, 2011
    The entire album is a collaborative project, in that sense; yet each song acts like a personal journal entry, documenting Justin Vernon's experience back with the living, after being with the ghosts of memory for some time.
  20. Jun 20, 2011
    Bon Iver, Bon Iver settles itself around a more narrative structure, letting the baroque arrangements move from one destination to another.
  21. Jul 19, 2011
    Bon Iver, Bon Iver is wrought using a dazzling pointillism. Producer Vernon has carefully studded his album with thousands of cul-de-sacs of grace and poise and lavishly attended precision.
  22. Jun 23, 2011
    Few albums are truly perfect though, and Bon Iver is not without its flaw.
  23. Mojo
    Jun 21, 2011
    Bon Iver's musical palette is a far broader, full blown band affair. [Jul 2011, p.98]
  24. Jun 21, 2011
    We can all go on loving For Emma, Forever Ago (with good reason), but don't let your attachment to that obscure what Vernon has created here. No cabin, no crazy backstory. Just a great, inventive album.
  25. Jun 21, 2011
    Bon Iver is a brave change in certain places and only a careful departure in others, but its seemingly polar styles blend smoothly as only Vernon is capable of.
  26. Jun 21, 2011
    Ultimately, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the sound of growth, of growing pains, and the sound of grounding, of tearing new ground. If it aches, it aches like any natural growth, with beauty and wonder.
  27. Jun 20, 2011
    This is a brave and emboldening record in a frightened world.
  28. Jun 16, 2011
    A wonderful, worthy follow-up.
  29. Jun 15, 2011
    For much of Bon Iver, Vernon takes his cues from Volcano Choir, using an array of disparate instrumentation and looping effects to beautifully eerie effect.
  30. Jun 15, 2011
    Justin Vernon and his crew have changed things up here for sure, but the results are every bit as beautiful as you might expect.
  31. Q Magazine
    Jun 7, 2011
    The Wisconsin outsider stretches horizons on mesmeric second album. [July 2011, p. 108]
  32. May 31, 2011
    Vernon re-accesses that potent sense of self on Bon Iver, a stunning sophomore set whose landscape-painting cover art underscores the idea that his songs inhabit their own psychological space.
  33. May 27, 2011
    This is Vernon leaving the seclusion of the forests and, as many of the track titles suggest, moving through towns, cities and open spaces.
  34. Jun 28, 2011
    This album just goes to show that when Vernon does manage to find that perfect balance of production and deep-in-the-gut songwriting, it is going to be shattering. Even the harshest critics among us may, for a moment, forget about our thumbs.
  35. Jun 23, 2011
    The expansive arrangements fill the edges of Bon Iver, Bon Iver's sound without losing Vernon's haunting aesthetic, balancing both a fullness and ethereality.
  36. Jun 21, 2011
    Vernon on Bon Iver solidifies his place not as innovator, but as someone who's found a nice, fertile plot of land somewhere near where folk, rock, R&B and indie rock intersect, and is happy to wander across its great expanse honoring all of it.
  37. 70
    Bon Iver is the sound of a man making peace with the world, saxophones and all.
  38. May 26, 2011
    Bon Iver isn't quite a crossover move. Big-pop synths appear, but more in the way a radio hit sounds leaking out of your lover's earbuds.
  39. Jun 20, 2011
    The sound is a good deal plusher, the arrangements thickened with pedal steel, saxophone, horns, percussion. But Vernon still sounds like he's back in that Wisconsin cabin that birthed "Emma."
  40. Jun 21, 2011
    Despite its hype, its expectations, its blown up sound, and its many production flourishes, Bon Iver is nothing more than a solid placeholder album.
  41. Jun 21, 2011
    Perhaps if he were a more skilled producer and arranger, things would have been better. Unfortunately, his style comes off more like sub-Enya with a beard than a true studio wizard.
  42. May 25, 2011
    Like 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.
User Score

Universal acclaim- based on 346 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Negative: 12 out of 346
  1. Jun 21, 2011
    Occasionally, 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.
    Full Review »
  2. Jun 21, 2011
    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
    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.
    Full Review »
  3. Jun 26, 2011
    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 theIt'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. Full Review »