The Belle Jar- Union Station
Mar 5, 2014
Justin Vernon created Bon Iver’s excellent debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago as a brooding cry of frustration over loss. The simple folk setup of the album allows listeners to apply meaning and fill the space intentionally left by Vernon. Between fragile strums and stacked overdubs of his own voice, For Emma is a hell of a lot more than nine songs cranked out by a bearded guy in a lonely Wisconsin cabin.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver is about expansion, as good sophomore efforts tend to be. Where For Emma’s “re: Stacks” chimed along beautifully with just Vernon’s voice and guitar, the 10 tracks on this latest release rely on dense layers of production, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gorgeous opener “Perth” is everything one craves in a Bon Iver song: a simple, dazzling guitar part that leads into a chorus of Vernons singing in angelic falsetto, some pounding percussion and delicate horn accompaniment.
“Perth” leads into “Minnesota, WI,” an usually percussive tune that features Vernon singing in a strikingly lower register. After the drums drop out, dueling banjo and guitar picks recall For Emma’s folk, but the song is more a representation of Vernon’s R&B inklings, which he indulged with funky side project Gayngs last year.
Something to note: Bon Iver, Bon Iver is louder, but still as sweet. Acoustic guitar and broken man folk are noticeably absent here, leaving room for Vernon to flesh out the sound. “Towers” is a total country-folk jam, complete with wailing slide twang and fiddle, but the western glaze doesn’t overtake the song. “Hinnom, TX” is a smoky haze of reverb and Vernon’s deep hums. The piano-driven “Wash.” is a cousin of 2009’s Blood Bank EP’s “Babys.”
At all times, Justin Vernon keeps control. Lead single “Calgary” is a synth-driven ballad that features one of the best moments on Bon Iver, Bon Iver. As the bridge begins, caustic electric guitars begin to take hold, and Vernon’s voice becomes less ethereal and more biting. It’s a testament to how much control he truly has.While closer “Beth/Rest” is a cheese-fest of gaudy electric piano, slow-jam drums and Vernon’s auto-tuned soaked voice, it doesn’t even come close to ruining the album. Sure, it’s no “re: Stacks,” but it’s another side of Vernon. And if nothing else, at least proms across the nation now have another slow-dance option.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver is just that—twice the passion, twice the beauty, twice the Vernon.
Listen to "Calgary"