Bon Iver – [Album]

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Following a break-up album is never an easy task, and when its one as painfully heartfelt as Bon Iver's debut darling For Emma, Forever Ago, the charge is doubly difficult. Where do you go after you've poured out your heart on your first album?

For Justin Vernon, the soul behind Bon Iver, the answer has been to the road, where he's been able to test a few new tunes, most notably "Blood Bank," the title track of the new EP. "Blood Bank" differs from other Bon Iver tracks in its steady melody, dense delicate lyrics, and linear story with (get this) a happy ending. Playing in August at the Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, Bon Iver presented "Blood Bank" as a more upbeat country-tinged number than it appears on the EP. Here the song stays truer to Bon Iver's signature sound, highlighting Vernon's ethereal oohs and aahs.

The three tidy tracks that follow "Blood Bank" are more instrumental, focusing on the beautiful fusion that occurs between Vernon's voice and acoustic guitar (on "Beach Baby"), piano (on "Babys"), and Auto Tune (on "Woods"). Even with the addition of the technological wonder that is Auto Tune, Vernon's falsetto vocals are simple and haunting, magnified, but not jarring. "Woods," the last track on the EP, lives as a soaring concert, as if Vernon was singing in multiple showers at once.

While "Woods" certainly conjures images of Vernon trudging pensively, one wonders if he is thinking not of Emma, but of the future as he sings, "I'm building a still / to slow down the time." Compared to the passionate numbers on For Emma, the tracks on Blood Bank gives the sense that Vernon has let go and is pondering larger things, offering the simple charge, "summer comes, to multiply," on "Babys." Blood Bank certainly eschews rebounding in favor of reflecting.

If Vernon is thinking of larger things, he can definitely count on a larger audience—deserved due to a critically lauded album and rigorous tour schedule. If he's thinking of the future, it’s looking bright.


Bon Iver – Blood Bank EP is out now. Buy it on Amazon.




Bon Iver – [Album]

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

If you haven’t slept in about ninety-six hours, the world is a very strange place. Edges don’t look clean anymore—they sort of vibrate with an energy like snow on a television screen—your eyes have difficulty focusing and the most mundane things seem cold and faded, yet piercing, exaggerated and crushing in their presence. If that sensation made a sound, it would be Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago—a record that exposes singer Justin Vernon’s desires, but moves at a careful pace so as not to give away too much too soon because baring everything at once would be too much for the singer to bear.

So you work for it and feel compelled to get to Vernon’s center despite the obstacles (cryptic lyrics, strange fades and more) he throws into the mix in hopes that listeners will get lost in them. From the opening wash of “Flume,” the singer uses the nature of his own psychological workings as a hook to draw audiences into the songs and it works brilliantly. Vernon makes you want to know what would prompt a man to meekly croak “Only love is all maroon / gluey feathers on a flume / sky is womb and she’s the moon”—he draws you in and convinces you to be curious about where he’s going and how he’s going to get there. The puzzle, the mystery and trying to decide the reason why the singer would attempt to hide from his audience incredibly salacious and captivating.

While Vernon appears alone singing with an acoustic guitar in the early parts of the record (“Flume” is the exception), each successive song finds the singer offering another little piece of himself, and filling out the mixes as he goes by “Creature Fear,” the songs brim with nervous energy and feel like the most passionate act of kindness an artist could give his audience. Taking the five-track ramp-up to “Creature Fear” into account, the dramatic form of the record is made plain, and the gentle, folky and full-band tracks are much more gratifying and climactic at “For Emma,” and leaves “re:stacks” to put the chairs on the tables, turn the lights out and lock up the end. It’s one of those things you have to hear to believe, but with For Emma, Forever Ago, Justin Vernon has successfully made a record that anyone who hears it will care about and feel empathy for. You have to find it first then Vernon makes listeners work for the reward, but nothing good comes easy and For Emma, Forever Ago is no exception.

For Emma, Forever Ago is out now on Jagjaguwar.

More on Bon Iver here:

Download – "Skinny Love" from For Emma, Forever Ago – [mp3]

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