When Bon Iver released their debut album 'For Emma forever ago' it was essentially the work of one man. The myth goes that a heartbroken, disenchanted Justin Vernon retreated to a log cabin in the woods and a few months later returned to society having created a fragile work of folk tinged beauty.
That album put Justin Vernon in demand, (he even featured on Kanye Wests 'My Dark Twisted Fantasy' last year) and after getting a full band together and going on tour the 'Blood Bank' EP emerged. This hinted at the more fleshed out sound that has now come to full fruition on 'Bon Iver'.
Whereas 'For Emma...' was created sparely around the sound of an acoustic guitar, the songs on this album are far more complex, often building from sparse piano or guitar lines to include a variety of layers of sonic gorgeousness. Pedal Steel guitar, saxophone, trumpets and strings have all been added to the mix while an amorphous concoction of sounds bubbles underneath throughout. The band also unexpectedly kicks out the jams with some relatively raucous guitar on ‘Perth’ and ‘Calgary’.
Central to the success of this album though is Bon Ivers most impressive instrument, and that is Justin Vernon’s distinctive falsetto. Whether multi-layered or drenched in reverb, the man’s soulful voice can melt a stick of butter at a hundred meters. The lyrics are often abstract and hard to decipher but the delivery is always emotive and effecting. He could be singing exerts from The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and his voice would impart even those clunky words with depth and feeling.
The songs are mostly named after places (some fictional) which hints that this album is about the transition Justin Vernon has gone through from his rustic origins in a log cabin to hob knobbing with rap superstars. His and the albums journey comes to an end in the surprising ‘Beth/Rest’. Take an ultra-cheesy keyboard sound pilfered straight from an 80’s Lionel Richie song, add some saxophone and epic guitar twiddling, finally apply a sheen of MOR soft rock and you have a ballad that would make your average hipster vomit onto his moccasins. But somehow Bon Iver takes those elements with all sincerity and fashions them into a beautiful song that could arguably be the albums finest.
This is a big step forward in the evolution of Bon Ivers sound and it will be interesting to see where the enigmatic mind of Justin Vernon will take them next, wherever it is, judging by this evidence it’ll certainly be worth tagging along for the ride.
Spods Rating: Iver feeling this could be album of the year. Bon appetit.
Best time to listen: with headphones on, on your daily commute
Worst time to listen: when your moccasins are covered with vomit