Bon Iver: Bon Iver
Having impressed the
un-impressible Kanye West enough to lend his vocals to last
year’s My Beautiful Dark
more expectant gazes turned to Justin Vernon and American folk band Bon Iver.
The anticipation for their self-titled second album was already high after 2008’s album For Emma, Forever Ago and 2009’s EP Blood Bank. The two releases, Vernon’s unique high-pitched vocals,
and the group’s no-frills image conquered an adoring cult following. It’s been a
big month for folk music, with Fleet Foxes also releasing a much-anticipated second album.
As you’d expect, soft and strained guitars lead the sound, and Bon Iver
opens with ‘Perth’; a sombre inauguration to the album that was written back in
2008 during Vernon’s stay with a friend of Heath Ledger’s after
the actor’s death. The end of the song introduces the bands’ recurring use of
synthesisers to accompany the very raw and earthy folk sound. ‘Minnesota, WI’
continues in a similar but more upbeat vein.
Vernon uses his
natural, much deeper speaking voice in ‘Hinnom, TX’; a contrast that stands out
against his usually high-pitched vocals and the more electronically reliant sound
of the song, which still retains the moody charm that underwrites the album.
Unfortunately, that moodiness
starts to grate away at the listener’s resolve, and the wonderful instrumentalism
isn’t enough. This is not an easy album to listen to; the instrumentals and the
vocals are very separate, and Vernon often secedes as if he’s riffing. First single ‘Calgary’ is a welcome change of
tempo then, without completely differentiating itself from the rest of the album. It was the obvious choice as the album’s first single, and it makes for the most accessible listen.
The album is summed
up best by ‘Lisbon, OH’; a brief composition of quaint music; the type that you’d
stare into space to. Adopting the names of cities and towns holds meaning for
Vernon, but for listeners it adds to the melancholy image of an angst-ridden
travelling musician, making every new unfamiliar city a temporary home.
No-frills they may
be, but there’s a delicate and intricate musical acuteness behind Bon Iver’s
grizzly features. This is an album in which each song has been treated as the
most important, and so each one sounds incredibly refined. It doesn’t feel instinctive,
but rather that every note is perfectly thought out, which makes it even more
impressive when it bears on you. Bon Iver
requires a lot of concentration, more than some will be prepared to give; but it