Bon Iver

Posted on November 1, 2011

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 Incredibly it’s been three years since Bon Iver’s bleak masterpiece For Emma, Forever Ago, was released following a period of recording in a cabin out in the sticks. Incredible not only because For Emma’s beautifully weariness feels like it has been around for much longer but also because of the bizarrely diverse places that Justin Vernon has popped up in since then. As well as harmonising on The National’s High Violet, Vernon has appeared both as himself and in his Bon Iver guise on Anais Mitchell’s folk opera, Hadestown and, even stranger, Kanye West’s last album alongside Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z. Not the typical credits you’d expect from the man who recorded the Nebraska of break-up albums.
Then again, Bon Iver haven’t necessarily gone down the route you might expect with this self titled follow up. Gone is the secluded, raw and echoing emotion of For Emma (a style which it must have been tempting to try and reproduce in a warm comfy studio taking the place of a cabin in Wisconsin), replaced instead by an assured and polished production, with complex arrangements taking in horn and string sections and multi-tracked vocals alongside synthy bass parts. 
Not that Bon Iver ever feels overproduced or sterile, far from it. The main impressions upon first, second and indeed third listening is how warm and impossibly cosy the whole thing sounds, with the fuller production helping to distance the album’s mood from its predecessor’s. As before, Vernon’s flawless and beautifully pure falsetto is what really draws you in, with his multi-layered , intricate harmonies lifting even the slightly too experimental tracks such as Hinnom, TX or Minnesota, WI.
Bon Iver gets it right more often than not though, with Calgary, Towers and Michicant adding subtle layers of percussion, finger-picking and countrified slide guitars to what are originally simple, yet affecting, melodies.
Bon Iver isn’t as immediately memorable or even as obviously emotional as For Emma, Forever Ago (there is no Skinny Love or Re: Stacks here, although Holocene comes close), but sit with it for a short while and its warmth and intricacies soon reveal themselves. Bon Iver was always going to draw comparisons with For Emma, but allits very welcome differences hint at a future output that is very exciting indeed for anyone looking for intelligent, ambitious and soulful music.
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