Back in 2007 when the self-released beauty of For Emma, Forever Ago was still awash for many music fanatics, Bon Iver’s subtle brilliance was just beginning to be realized – let alone recognized. While it took a year for many to finally catch on, perhaps a year or two for an autotune-influenced EP, Blood Bank, to infuse and appearances on a massive Kanye West album, for others to finally get the brilliance flowing, Justin Vernon’s musicianship has merely grown during the last four years. That album’s now famous story on how it was created backdrops Vernon’s proper second album – recorded and created in dissimilar fashion – it is still just as good as the cold, lonely album before it.
Working with a cohesive band, the songs on Bon Iver directly affect the singer’s voice with lush, enriched compositions that make for winning moments abound. The chiming guitar of “Towers” that brings in the sound, before the layers of Vernon’s voice take over, introduces many of the songs on the album to vibrant, full sounds. The closing “Beth/Rest” showcases a magnificent influence in 80s dramatics with an overcast of misty sounds and once again, Vernon’s voice is electronically-altered for a wonderful ending. The hushed atmosphere from before is still prevalent in the production’s muffled style where the lightest of sounds still creek in but now, through the driving drums and moving motions, Bon Iver packs a radiant sound.
On “Wash.” the piano continues its peddling pattern of repetition as layers of instruments – strings, drum patterns, beats, voices – are added into one great succession of sounds. Where the quietness of living in a bare cabin with no friends, no family and no support around him really took a toll, on Bon Iver Vernon expands his horizons to encompass the music he was made to create. There’s flurries of soft-paced folk that is driving by magnificent words (“Holocene”) and on the aforementioned “Wash.” the music swells into a near classical explosion of wildfire. The music on here is tempered and fluid, while prevailing through its composer’s embattled manner.
If anything, the way the album begins, with slow-burning “Perth,” one would be foolish to dismiss the progression in Bon Iver’s overall sounds. Vernon noted that while his voice would certainly retain a central focus, the corresponding parts around him would be called upon for moments of tremendous fusion. On “Perth” there is a march-like drum pattern and a jagged guitar that crashes against the walls after Vernon’s voice has led the melody through a twisted pattern and on “Hinnom, TX” the ambient background supports the tracking of Vernon’s voice, as it showcases his range. Starting off in a low baritone, he climbs over and around the edges with marvelous vocal cadences.
Who knows if Vernon will ever make another For Emma, Forever Ago but if you’re still pining for it after listening to the wonderful breakthrough heard on Bon Iver then there is something amiss. It’s clear that a recipe to continued success in music is simply continuing to make music on a consistent basis. Staying active, while performing live on solo and collaborative efforts, 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.
“Holocene” by Bon Iver