Friday, June 24, 2011

Bon Iver: Bon Iver

     I'm gonna try and keep things varied on the blog by writing this review straight after listening to the album for the first time. It might fail, but then I might get a better straight-up opinion of the record. The lp in question is one I've been eagerly awaiting for a while now. After reviewing Bon Iver, or Justin Vernon's debut full-length, 'For Emma Forever Ago', which I loved, you can imagine my anticipation for 'Bon Iver'. Some may disagree, but for me, I think this lp has definitely lived up as a sequel to the excellence that preceded it!
     I was worried at first, if I'm to be honest. Gone is the bleak simplistic folk, one man and his guitar feel the first album had, which could be attributed to Vernon's time alone in a cabin. In comes an actual lineup, with other artists contributing to the sound. This means there are a lot more instruments on this album, and like I said, at first I was worried the record wouldn't catch and manage to charm like 'For Emma' did. Fortunately, as I listened, I came to the conclusion that I don't think I would have wanted Bon Iver to do more of the same, however good that was. There is a sense with this album of development, in both sound and attitude. Like Bon Iver's fame, the sound has grown, but not in a way to make the music sound arrogant. With this, the vocals also feel more relaxed, with the singing sang in a deeper register than before. Not everything has changed though. Still remains the honesty. Still remains the soothing and surreal purity. And still remains the brilliance.
     The songs feel less hurt than before, with Vernon concentrating on cities rather that a failed relationship, but there is still a mournful, dreamy and thoughtful air to the music. These emotions are channeled particularly well on the opener to this ten track record, 'Perth'. The somber guitars float on clouds of angelic undertones, with the undeniable vocals lead by an almost militant drum beat. The accumulation of sounds throughout the middle sound majestic and royal, hitting heights only dreamt of by the previous album. It was the next track, 'Minnesota, WI' however, that startled me the most, with it's relatively low vocals compared to anything we've heard before. There are higher notes hit, but I found that even when the voice is deeper, it's still instantly recognisable as Bon Iver's!
     'Holocene' is one of my personal favourites. This reminds me the most of 'For Emma Forever Ago', but the added instrumentation is executed perfectly. Subtle claps run through the backbone of the track and the vocals, even when not the most understandable, carry a certain great joy and emphatic weariness. Other good tracks are 'Towers', with it's beautiful melody, and 'Wash', with it's piano and subtlety deserving of respect. 'Calgary' was the first single released from this record, and it's electric guitars contrast wonderfully with the sonically thick bass line. All the while though, these tracks manage to ensnare and retain your attention in the best possible way. Outstanding effort.
     As a conclusion, I find it fitting to talk about the closing track to 'Bon Iver', which for me, is the most shocking, even more than the quite startling vocals on 'Minnesota, WI'. 'Beth / Rest' is autotuned. Yes, you heard me correctly. That thing that used to be used on X-Factor to make the contestants sound better? It's been used here. After I got over the initial surprise however, I decided I didn't mind it. It gives the vocals something. The higher notes are distorted in a very dreamy way, and the lower pitched instruments fluctuate ever so slightly. It makes the whole track feel very surreal, as though viewing the world through a stain-glass window. It marks the end of 'Bon Iver', which for me is, like I said, a very worthy successor to 'For Emma'. I for one am going to be listening to this for a long while, and I can only recommend that you do too. The music has developed into something immensely beautiful, which floats and drifts on heavenly clouds of sound. I simply adore it!