Verdict – 9.6
The sophomore album by American indie folk band Bon Iver, had to follow on from one of the most impactful debut albums of the decade, For Emma, Forever Ago. With the back-story about heartbroken hibernation, the introspective and hushed record forged a path to critical acclaim, and a devoted fan base. Justin Vernon chose to make a brash musical departure from his debut(created solely by Vernon), and decided to employ an entire band to create a fuller, richer, musical experience. Although labelled as indie folk, they are just as much baroque rock, chamber pop, and experimental. The production and the band are put to drastic effect, with the album being different to For Emma in so many ways. Vernon’s layered, wounded, voice still remains the star attraction though, showcasing his incredible upper and lower registers, which are able to shift the mood in a song entirely on their own.
The lyrics are abstract, ambiguous, oblique, and reading them gives you no clear idea on the concept of songs, however this allows you to find interpretations of your own. The opener, Perth, immediately shows the change in musical direction as heavy guitar riffs and thunderous drums replace the sparse, empty space that occupied For Emma so adeptly. The song explodes to life as it closes and carries forth a simple message to those who’ve lost loved ones, “still alive who you love.” Following this is the intricately complex, Minnesotam, WI, which takes a moment to showcase his vocal talent, amazing breakdowns, and brilliant lyrics, “Armour let it through, borne the arboretic truth you kept posing.”
The album’s best track, Holocene, was one of last year’s top songs, and for good reason. Devastating and intimate, the lyrics speak volumes, and the music is subtle perfection. The main hook, “and at once I knew I was not magnificent… I could see for miles, miles, miles…” could refer to many things. To someone full of egotistical pride, the song sounds like a rough break-up where they are to blame, and where they now only realize they are not as great as they deem themselves to be (the miles, miles… could refer to an introspective manner). It is more likely however, to be about your place in everything, and how small you are in comparison to the world, for example, at the peak of a mountain overlooking nature. (The name Holocene clearly suggests that) Also contains one of my favourite lyrics, “Not the needle, nor the thread, the lost decree. Saying nothing, that’s enough for me.”
Wash is Bon Iver’s quietest moment, and one of its brightest, with a simple and beautifully arranged piano base to Vernon’s aching vocal. Following is the brilliantly solemn, Calgary, speaking of an initial absence of love in a relationship, however as time passed, feelings grew fonder, and fear dissipates (I was only for your very space… I was only for to die beside… Sold, I’m ever… Oh the demons come, they can subside). The entire album is a build up to the nostalgic, Beth/ Rest, which captures a definite 80’s vibe. The song is dramatic, the lyrics relevant, and is the perfect end to the fantastic album. Narrating a dwindling, then failed relationship, before the rekindling. This builds to the most potent lyric on the album, “I ain’t living in the dark no more. It’s not a promise, I’m just gonna call it.” He can’t guarantee his love, but he can no longer stand idly by, he’s calling it out.
Bon Iver never falters, as songs flow from one to the other seamlessly, as we look into the psyche and emotions of a troubled man, seeking to find, and display clarity through song. Ambitious and bold, one of 2011’s best, surprisingly enjoying even some critical acclaim in the form of Grammy awards, Vernon’s music is an inspiration.The album closes with the brilliant line, “This is axiom.” (Meaning self-evident, requiring no proof) His love requires no proof, but also, the album is self-evident to Vernon himself. He is no longer living in the dark, he’s displaying himself musically with this album, and that’s a statement that requires no proof.
Top Songs – Minnesota, WI, Holocene, Beth/Rest