Album Review: Bon Iver – Bon Iver

By on Thursday, 23rd June 2011 at 2:00 pm

Three years ago, ‘For Emma Forever Ago’, Bon Iver‘s debut album, slowly but surely pressed itself from the mind of a broken Justin Vernon into the hearts of thousands. Peaking just outside the top 40 in the UK and at #62 in the Billboard charts, it’s safe to say it hardly made an immediate mark on mainstream music.

What has come since for Bon Iver, who are now very much a band and in a much better place, both financially and spiritually, has been more than cult-recognition. Stand-out shows at Glastonbury (see video below of the track ‘Skinny Love’), Green Man Festival and a recent Justin Vernon appearance with one Kanye West for his incredible show at this year’s Coachella have earned the band huge anticipation for new material from a huge array of dedicated fans. These fans have followed Vernon and Co. through their individual projects from solo records through to Mount Vernon and Volcano Choir. ‘The Blood Bank’ EP gave a taste of the halfway house Bon Iver were in, showcasing both new and old sessions from the group, yet it never really satisfied.


But let’s go back 1 month to mid-May and a few minutes of silence amongst my friends as ‘Calgary’ was first played over the airwaves. Everything about it shouts change. No longer locked up in a cabin in Wisconsin, Justin Vernon has made this record as a complete band. Keyboards mix with guitar throughout and soars through these trademark Vernon vocals. Truly, Bon Iver are back.

The record from start to finish encapsulates the change in sentiment in the artists involved and adds depth to what used to be a sparse timbre to the band’s sound. It’s intelligent to say the least. If the group had set out to replicate ‘For Emma…’, it could easily have ended in disaster: an attempt to falsely recreate both feeling and ideas. Even at its loudest, ‘Bon Iver’ is a peaceful record. It could be the soundtrack to a Sunday anywhere in the world, which is convenient considering that the tracks are named after places (Perth, Australia; Hinnom, Texas, etc.)

That said, I’d hardly call it a driving album or a record about being on the road, more a set of checkpoints in Vernon’s route to a more content way of life. If ‘For Emma…’ is the sound of love lost, then ‘Bon Iver’ is the sound of happiness rekindled for these brothers in sound. With ‘Calgary’ (as performed on the Colbert Report below) as a free download and the record ending in a Hawaiian guitar solo straight out of the ’80s (which I haven’t decided if it’s a good thing or not), I can see few reasons why anyone shouldn’t listen to this album. It’s not going to resound across as many heartstrings as their previous album nor affect anyone as much sonically, but it’s still one of the most musically adept records thus far in 2011.



Bon Iver’s self-titled – but second – album is available now from 4AD.

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