Sunday, August 14, 2011

Album Review: Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Justin Vernon has been a busy, busy man.

Ever since For Emma, Forever Ago caught the public's affection and adulation in 2008 and achieved perfect scores 5/5 in both Uncut and Mojo mags, the frontman of Bon Iver (French pronunciation: [bɔn‿ivɛːʁ] meaning "good winter") has been involved in a myriad of cameos and production duties, working with the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Aaron Dessner of The National, Volcano Choir, Gayngs, St. Vincent, Anaïs Mitchell and progressively confounding everyone along the way.

For Emma... was the birthchild of a self-imposed exile to his father's remote cabin in Northwestern Wisconsin while being bedridden with illness.
The album evolved from isolation and is essentially a solo effort of wafer-thin fragile love songs.

Everyone then pigeonholed him to be an indie folk singer.

Cover art by artist Gregory Euclide

Released on June 20, 2011, peaking at #2 and #4 in the US and UK respectively, it's comforting the band has achieved their due recognition instead of remaining indie also-rans.

Their second self-titled album, Bon Iver, has instead burst out and engaged the world with a rich pallette of hues and tones, and in Justin's own words "It's more colourful and inviting".

Sung mostly in an impossible helium register, Justin's vocals has a strangely melancholic and affecting quality-
At once earthy and otherworldly.
The songs (all named after places) rarely break a sweat, but possess a beauty overflowing from every intricate note.  A melange of instruments were deployed, with bass saxophonist Colin Stetson and pedal-steel guitarist Greg Leisz brought in to flesh out the sound.  The synth drum ambience on Beth / Rest recalls In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins.  There's richly detailed atmospherics befitting a Brian Eno production; some kept so low in the mix, it literally seeps into your subconscious.

This is definitely an album best experienced on a good set of cans (headphones) or on a really good hifi system.

Try following the lyrics and "wtf??" comes to mind, not just because of the difficult scribble on the the accompanying CD booklet, or the much improved version here; but because the obtuse words are chosen rather more for their phoenetic than their literal significance.

A thing of beauty.  9.2/10

Lead single, the haunting Calgary (Clip directed by Andre Durand and Dan Huiting):

Follow-up single, Holocene:

Bonus Track, a medley of Bonnie Raitt's I Can’t Make You Love Me / Nick of Time (Written by Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin / Bonnie Raitt):

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