Jagjaguwar | 4AD
Brilliant, melancholy, abstract, sporadic, intentionally and intricately calculated all describe Bon Iver’s self titled new album, an emotional work that through music and tone brilliantly touches the listener through themes of love, loss, and hope. The new album, written by Justin Vernon, keeps the emotional connection to the listener but marks a departure from the minimalistic acoustic driven songwriting found in the 2007 album 'For Emma, Forever Ago,' finding more complex and ambient layers supporting Vernon’s falsettos and delicate ambiguousness. Since 2007 Vernon has been a busy man. After igniting the blogosphere and Billboard with 'For Emma, Forever Ago Vernon' has had a number of projects leading to his new album. Vernon performed with and recorded a few tracks with Kanye West for the album 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,' undoubtedly affecting Vernon’s sound engineering and recording quality for the new album. Vernon also doubled the amount of band members for this release after collaborating with Gayngs, a soft rock project featuring about 25 different musicians from bands and performers like Megafaun, Andrew Bird, The Rosebuds, Har Mar Superstar and many other goodies. The album starts with 'Perth,' opening with a delicate melody pushed forward by ambient guitar and powerful drums. Vernon establishes early on that this album will not be a remake of his last. When asked what the meaning of his first album was, Vernon referred to 'Emma' as a pain you get stuck in and can’t erase, and he starts his new album with the lyrics “this is not a place, not yet awake, I’m raised of make,” marking a departure from the painful storytelling found in his previous work. What we find in the new Bon Iver album are ambiguous lyrics backed with cryptic words which derive different meanings depending on the listener. Throughout the album we find waves of minimalism followed by thickly layered moments of ambience and strong percussion; Vernon seems to be so calculated throughout the album while never losing a sentimental aura. Throughout the album, the music acts as a catalyst to installing feeling and emotional to the cryptic lyrics of Vernon. No longer are Vernon’s songs driven forward with a haunting acoustic guitar and “Calgary,” the 8th track and single released before the album, is a prime example. Calgary starts by backing his vocals with a strong, steady progression on a synthesizer leading into powerful drums, distorted guitars and synth effects, and each song on the album follows these similar arcs. These arcs lead to a mood that is hopeful and optimistic, and each listen is new and exciting. There is just so much at work and so much to take in, it demands multiple listens. The album concludes with “Beth/Rest,” a pop ballad which contrasts the rest of the album with its forceful melody and strong jabbing vocals. It resolves the album with a victorious tone, with the lyrics hinting at healing. The final words of the album are “danger has been stole away, this is axiom,” ending the album on the solid note of romantic optimism. Bon Iver’s Bon Iver is a must have and a must listen. Although the lyrics are enigmatic, the album is unlike any other in that the musical emphasis leads listeners to their own understanding of the meaning behind the lyrical ambiguity, and what Vernon was feeling in the writing process, and what you are feeling during the listen. Do yourself a favor, go pick it up. You’ll be better for it.
- Frederick J. Pecor II