June 10th, 2011 | Published in Rock, Pop & Folk
A Vivoscene Music Review by Caitlin Reid
Bon Iver’s new self titled album is an evocative, powerfully emotive collection of soulful melodies and dreamlike sounds. Remarkably intense, these feelings are evoked by the digitally manipulated falsetto of vocalist Justin Vernon, combined with guitar, banjo and the occasional brass interlude from the other band members: Michael Noyce, Sean Carey and Matthew McCaughan. Since the 2008 release of Bon Iver’s first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, Vernon has gone through a period of growth and self discovery. This change in mood and emotion is closely reflected in the new album with the ebbs and flows of each track, which, when the album is listened to in its entirety, gently mesh together to create a masterpiece.
Bon Iver was borne from a movie-worthy beginning. In 2006, after Vernon’s band, DeYarmond Edison, broke up and a periodic bout of illness, Vernon withdrew to his father’s hunting cabin in Wisconsin for some time away. The return to his home state, his immersion in nature and self-imposed solitude were the building blocks for the album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Haunting, intense, and emotional, the expression of sentiment by sounds and textures was the aim of the album, rather than a focus on lyrical messages. In his solitude, Vernon discovered his now well known falsetto, enabling him to express a far greater emotive range. Recorded in a self made studio – an old, transformed indoor pool, the time alone led to Vernon’s discovery of vocal manipulation and Auto Tune, further enabling expression of his melancholy producing a raw, earthy sound. For Emma reflects a remarkable period for Vernon, and the success of the album saw him signed with indie label Jagjaguwa. The album gained recognition in the music industry, leading to a collaboration with Kanye West for West’s album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Vernon even joined Kanye at the infamous Coachella festival in 2011. For Emma was an amazing musical offering, however Bon Iver’s newest album is even more exciting and electric.
Bon Iver’s new album, released June 21st 2011, is more upbeat, more exciting and more positively evocative than their last. Continuing to emphasize melody and texture of sound rather than lyrics, Justin Vernon is clearly at a more exciting and experimental musical place. “I’m trying to become something, and that was a different accent, a different place in my brain,” says Vernon. The phrase endings are all very vague and muffled, taking away the emphasis of the lyrics and creating an ebb and flow effect of sounds. Vernon confirms this with “I’m not really asking you to hear what I’m saying too much.” Further discovery of digital vocal manipulation means different sounding vocals throughout the album, in some parts sounding like a choir of 100 or more people are singing the one melody. The result is an epic, all consuming sound that is truly unique.
The flow of the album makes it hard to differentiate between tracks, but each one is clearly unique in its emotive expression. The first track, “Perth’” is a soft buildup to what is the rest of the album, almost a melodic warm up for what is to come. Incredibly different to the haunting melodies of For Emma, “Towers” is a happy, upbeat track with a catchy melody, and a country instrumental section near the end. This track was written about Vernon’s time in his University dorm where he partied and spent endless hours hanging out with his friends. A romantic, beautiful track is “Michicant”, with elegant phrasing and soft interludes, there is a positivity and lightness that has not been seen by Bon Iver before. Lastly, most talked about is the final track “Beth/Rest”. A hopeful, almost elated mood created by an 80s-esque synthesizer and a lot of vocal Auto Tune.
Exciting, evocative with an injection of positive hopefulness, Bon Iver is an album to be thrilled about. The growth of the band and Vernon’s personal and musical evolution have yielded a truly amazing record.