Rich With Layers: New Bon Iver
July 10, 2011 · Print This Article
People can change, musically. There was a time when, if it didn’t have a double-bass drum beat or wild guitar solos, I was not interested. That is to say, when Bon Iver’s first album was released, I was not ready for that acoustic masterpiece.
But I have changed. I have discovered the world of music outside the realm of heavy metal, and have spent the last year frantically trying to catch up. Just as my musical tastes have broadened since 2008, Justin Vernon has also made a transition since recording his first album, from the raw cabin-sounds of For Emma, Forever Ago into the produced and almost-experimental style of Bon Iver’s new self-titled release.
This album contains many elements particularly pleasant to my ears. “Perth” starts the album with a soft guitar riff that builds up with a sharp snare drum beat and horns, two recurring themes of the album. Several tracks could easily lull me into sweet dreams, particularly the lyrical “Holocene.” In contrast, “Calgary” is driven and instrumentally textured. The album has enough complexity to separate it from strictly ambient music, but it’s still simple and melodic enough to be very calming and easy to listen to.
Justin Vernon’s characteristic falsetto is prominently featured in this album, adding even more texture to an album rich with layers. The vocal styling gets a little weird during “Hinnom, TX” with excessive reverb on both an extra-falsetto and a baritone voice singing together. That aside, Vernon’s unique voice stands out as the defining characteristic of the Bon Iver sound.
When I first picked up this album, I was afraid that I would find a bluegrass influence beyond the limits of my taste. But every time Bon Iver introduces a tad of banjo or some slide guitar, it pulls in more instruments or some other effect to redirect the focus of the sound. In most cases these additional layers are enough make the song palatable. The exception is held off to the end of the album. “Beth/Rest” is a dramatic break in style, lacking an element of dreamy curiosity found throughout the other tracks. Instead, it packs in an ambitious amount of 80s synth, jazzy saxophone, overly Auto-tuned vocals, and, God help us, slide guitar, in a way that just doesn’t sit well.
It was only after thoroughly enjoying Bon Iver that I found time to appreciate For Emma, Forever Ago. I immediately came to understand the hype and subsequent disappointment in Bon Iver from many fans of his incredible debut album. Remaining from the last album is Bon Iver’s ability to create soft and peaceful textures. The difference is that it stretches out into experimental places with orchestration and synth-sounds.
It’s the sort of album I have come to expect this year from an artist with a history of acoustic hits. Recently, Sufjan Stevens and Iron & Wine have both produced albums that incorporate styles beyond the scope of their usual form. What sets these artists apart is the gradual maturation from their folk roots to their latest releases. With only one other album, Bon Iver lack the experience needed to execute a progressive album as masterfully as his contemporaries.
My musical interests have changed over the past three years, and Bon Iver has changed some, too. Although a few tracks on this album left me in want for something different or more like his first, as a whole and independent entity Bon Iver is well worth a listen. –Amy Rauch, Contributing Writer