Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

From those three months alone in a Wisconsin cabin to sharing a stage with collaborator Kanye West, Justin Vernon’s traveled far on the back of his angelic falsetto. When he self-released For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007 he probably didn’t expect Peter Gabriel to cover “Flume” a couple years later. Or to have West sampling material from 2009′s brief Blood Bank EP for his epic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Speaking of which, it turns out Blood Bank’s Auto-Tuned closer “Woods,” the one that caught Kanye’s attention, also gave us a hint of where Bon Iver was going next.

When Vernon stopped through for a Quit Your Day Job interview in ’08, he talked about building a studio with his brother. That place is April Base, the remodeled veterinarian clinic in Fall Creek, WI where he ultimately put second proper full-length Bon Iver to tape. As Vernon explains, “It’s an unique space and destination; it’s our home out here … It’s been a wonderful freedom, working in a place we built. It’s also only three miles from the house I grew up in, and just ten minutes from the bar where my parents met.” So, close to home, even if not the same address. Fittingly, at its center Bon Iver sounds very like what you’ve come to expect from Vernon & Co., what he captured in that cabin in ’07, but with a number of additional studio (and collaborative/indie-rock communal) flourishes.

There are a lot of flourishes. You’ve heard “Calgary” and watched people compare it to Coldplay. There’s the “Civil War-sounding heavy metal” opener “Perth” with its martial drums, rising/rollicking guitar feedback, and National-esque horns that bleed into the guitar sustain, hand drums, soft rock-horns, backwoods fingerpicking, fuzz, and the more ’funky’ almost TV On The Radio feel of “Minnesota, WI.” That incomplete list of elements gives you an idea: Bon Iver is pretty busy. You’ll feel the influence of his Gayngs gang via the various horns and strings and those aforementioned soft-rock flourishes. You’ll also find Greg Leisz (Lucinda Williams, Bill Frisell) on pedal steel, Colin Stetson’s saxophones, and additional horns and string arrangements joining regulars Sean Carey, Mike Noyce and Matt McCaughan. Volcano Choir pals Jim Schoenecker and Tom Wincek provided “processing.”

There are quiet and more “old-school”-echoing parts, too, like the frosty “Michicant,” the pulsing piano-lined “Wash.,” and the gently anthemic “Holocene,” aka the longest song on the album. These tracks feature plenty of layers, but also plenty of open, fragile space. Still, folks might miss the simpler grit and more open pathos of “Flume” or the manly emotive feel of “Skinny Love.” Bon Iver tends to be airier and more “compositional.” It’ll be interesting to see how purists take to “Hinnom, TX”’s busy/fragmentary high/low call and response or the glitchy (and pretty) instrumental “Lisbon, OH,” which sets up the lite-rock closer, “Beth / Rest,” a song that made someone across the room mention Steve Winwood and Bruce Hornsby, and that definitely pushes the “cheese” factor furthest.

In the end, whether or not you like the new record will largely depend on what you make of the arrangements surrounding the core. Vernon must know this. There’s probably a reason that, with all the emphasis put on place/home in his music, Bon Iver’s song titles are different cities around the world, mostly outside of Wisconsin: Australia’s “Perth,” “Hinnom, TX,” “Lisbon, OH,” etc. Also, though the label confirms the record’s self-titled (aka, just one Bon Iver), Vernon’s said it should be called “Bon Iver, Bon Iver,” hinting that the album and project are their own sorta city, and no matter where he goes, or what he comes back with and adds to the mix, things will still be centered on his voice, the one that got him where he is, and the one that will probably make you want to cry, even with a ’70s guitar wanking behind it somewhere in the distance.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver is out 6/21 via Jagjaguwar. You can pre-order it now.

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Comments (33)
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  2. Thanks for getting the title right!

  3. Great review! I love the last sentence. I’m so excited for this album. Let’s hope the rest of the songs sound as great as Calgary!
    Also, I’m loving the whole “songs named after cities” kind of thing.

  4. Really, really digging the album. Take away the flourishes and it’s still a collection of fantastically written and arranged songs – IMHO better than FEFA. Now please, don’t bite my head off.

    • It’s an interesting album for sure, but nothing can touch FEFA –– that album was perfect. If Bon Iver came out with this album first, he wouldn’t be as influential as he is today, no doubt.

  5. I feel as though “Calgary” sounds better in the context of the album.

    Also, a very good album, it’s always nice to hear an artist try something new.

  6. I listened to the album four, five times now, and I’m still not sure about the last track. The other 9 tracks are gorgeous though. Holocene is my favorite right now.

  7. “beth/rest” is one of the most hilarious things i’ve ever heard. the instrumentation is straight out of michael bolton’s back catalog

    • Yeah, it’s sad though. it’d be funny if it was on a Gayngs album but with Bon Iver it just hurts my soul. Good album, for sure, but “Beth/Rest” is…it’s…just no.

      • no doubt you are dead wrong – not only is beth/rest the song that takes the biggest step out of vernon’s comfort zone, it has the album’s biggest payoff

        this record just leaped into my top 5 of the year so far and in spades

    • oh man! you guys are missing out. be careful about describing the whole song based on the tone of the electric piano (and some heavy-petting sax/guitar licks).

      But even then, maybe y’all are too young (or grunge? or proud?) to remember how good some of that e. piano shit felt in the early late 80s/early 90s, and that’s understandable. It’s become a joke, but it still feels clean and right. You know? Like you want to stand on a bar at the end of the night, raise your glass, get everybody singing, and cry like you lost something. Auld Lang Syne incarnate. Sure, it got abused and perm mulleted and driven into the ground like something terrible, but the purging time is over. I’m up for that revival any day.

      It might be hilarious that the guy who came to mythic prominence through cabin minimalist beauty would revive it, but it’s also really fitting and it hits the same nerve in me as FEFEA. Give it some time? It’s got soul, y’all.

    • PS – I didn’t give you the thumbs down. No real need for that. Just honest premature evaluations.

    • Gotta give him credit for having the balls to use that keyboard tone. As for the song, I think it’s more Jackson Browne than anything. I dig it, but I wouldn’t want to be caught listening to it too loud :)

      • Haha! Balls indeed.

        Right on with the Jackson Browne! Maybe that’s the name I’ve been reaching for. Lap steel and all.

        Anyways, crank it my friend. It’s the only way. We’ll do it together! I blasted it driving through a golf course today and turned some well-manicured heads for sure. I’m going to lay in the dark and spin “Late for the Sky” – thanks for the nudge.

    • “Beth/Rest” sounds like it should be played during a sad episode of Saved By The Bell.

  8. I love this album. I think people expecting more of For Emma should understand that album was a snapshot in time, I don’t think that sound could or should be recreated. Justin Vernon has done a magnificent job of growing and exploring as an artist. That, my friends, is what good music is all about! I’m in love!

  9. Beth/rest is probably my 2nd favorite song on the album Perth being first. It sounds taken out of time, plucked straight from the brain of a young Peter Gabriel and merged with the present day Justin Vernon . If you think it’s cheesy or a joke that probably means you don’t have much of a grasp on music outside of the last decade, it’s called pastiche.

  10. I’ve listened to Beth/rest the most out of the entire album. At first I was really put off by the sound of it, but as soon as I moved beyond the “dated feel” of the sound it was completely different. I seriously love this song.

    Anyone who can’t get past the Michael Bolton keyboard, give it another listen. Or 10. Trust me.

    This album is fantastic. (though still not as good a FEFA)

    • I feel like whatever he does in the future isn’t even worth comparing to For Emma. It’s just too good to do that. It’s like a spiritual experience..

  11. I love the flourishes on this album. I’m glad he went in a different direction, frankly I thought he should have just dropped the “Bon Iver” moniker and moved on to do other things. I mean what could ever touch For Emma, Forever Ago? It seems to be such a perfect statement as is.

    But there he goes and makes this album, and good on him for it. Very different, but I love the landscapes and the stream of conscious lyrics. They fit the sounds awfully well.

    I think what I like most about Beth/Rest is that he drops the falsetto. I mean, I love it, but his natural voice is pretty amazing too. Glad he embraces it on the closing track. Love Blood Bank for that as well.

    • Definitely agree – the falsetto is cool, but I actually like his natural lower key a bit better, and think that some songs on the album actually would’ve been better served by it.

  12. Bon Iver, Bon Iver – A metamorphosis into a true artist.

    No one will argue that Bon Iver’s debut LP, “For Emma, Forever Ago” was a stark, emotional journey that was as heart-wrenching as it was inspiring. With “Blood Bank”, Justin proved that he wasn’t a one trick pony, while at the same time keeping a similar tone (“Beach Baby” and Baby) while expanding to new, interesting territories (Woods, Blood Bank).

    With “Bon Iver, Bon Iver”, we have yet another sonic shift from our favorite cheesehead (reference to Wisconsin, not his penchant for 80′s ballads and ball smashing falsetto). From “Perth” to “Beth/Rest”, the album is solid throughout. Highlights for me include “Perth” , “Holocene”, “Calgary” and “Wash.”.

    I think side project like Volcano Choir, Gayngs, and even his work with Kayne West have been instrumental in diversifying his sound and opening new doors that may not have been opened if he stuck to the “For Emma, Forever Ago” formula. Here is hoping this is a sign of things to come.

  13. WASHED OUT WITHIN AND WITHOUT LEAKED YALL

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