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Album Review
Bon Iver

Bon Iver
by Bon Iver


Review Date
13th June, 2011
Reviewed by
Natalie Finnigan

Bon Iver’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago is so beloved by fans and critics that it was hard to imagine how it could be followed. The band’s driving force and founder Justin Vernon was praised for his raw, stripped-back sound which had no trace of pretension or artificiality. At a time when the music industry was seeing a rise in the production of contrived indie-folk, it was inspiring to see Vernon produce and release an album independently with little more than an old set of drums and a beat-up Silvertone guitar at his disposal.

Bon Iver’s second, self-titled album will be released on 21 June. It is different from the first not only in sound but in origin. Where the first album was conceived, recorded, and produced by Vernon in a Wisconsin log cabin, the second album appears to be much more collaborative, showcasing the skill and aesthetic of Vernon’s band mates Sean Carey (drums, piano, vocals), Michael Noyce (baritone guitar, guitar, vocals), and Matthew McCaughan (bass, drums, vocals). The album also feature contributions from several incredibly talented musicians who have worked across the indie and folk genres with artists such as Arcade Fire, The National, Sufjan Stevens, and Rufus Wainwright.

Bon Iver sees the band move away from the simplistic production and dominantly acoustic sound that defined For Emma, towards a more complex and intricate style that incorporates the whimsical synth-pop sound of the 80’s and 90’s with the band’s characteristic americana/folk foundation. The breath-taking harmonies are still there, but they are complemented by the introduction of horns, baritone guitar, piano and strings. The percussion is also a lot more prominent in this album, adding intensity to tracks like ‘Perth’, which feels like military march, or ‘Minnesota’ which instantly reminded me of Paul Simon’s ‘Thelma’ with it’s plucking guitars and tribal percussion. It is also exciting to hear a variety of guitars in use, from contributor Greg Leisz’s pedal steel to Noyce’s baritone, the band have drawn on a breadth of influences to create a layered, rich sound that fills every space.

Although this album differs in sound there is no fundamental departure from the Vernon’s characteristic style of songwriting that defined For Emma, and perhaps this is reflected in the decision to self-title the album. Even though they introduce many new layers to the music, the incredibly intimate emotionalism and self-reflection is there to the same degree – there is just an added intensity which suggests that the past has been embraced and is being carried forward into the future. Both personally for Vernon, and collectively as musicians, Bon Iver take the rawest of human emotions and experiences and translate them into songs which are ethereal and abstract, and at the same time so close they feel like they have come from somewhere inside of you, the listener.

This album is magnificent, but really, I never expected anything less from Vernon. Indeed he understands that beauty and pain die as companions in any ‘good winter’.


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