Bon Iver 'Bon Iver' Review
I haven't done any reviewing in a little while, but as anybody who knows me will tell you, I am something of a Justin Vernon fanatic.
Justin Vernon returns with an album that is both a natural progression from his debut 'For Emma Forever Ago' and its musical counterpoint. Just as 'For Emma's' defining theme was loneliness, 'Bon Iver' revels in its sense of multitude. Where before there was sparseness, 'Bon Iver' is densely layered.
Album closer Beth/Rest is the logical conclusion of Bon Iver's experimentation. Overblown and swaggering to the level of Axl Rose it lies in stark contrast to the beautiful Re:Stacks of yesteryear. With 'Bon Iver', Vernon completes the transformation from isolated soul to textured multi-instrumentalist that we heard in 'Blood Bank'. Songs like Holcene and Walsh make use of distinct rhythmic sections and retro samples as well as autotune and dense layers of reverb.
Ultimately, the problem with 'Bon Iver' is that Vernon has released an album in a new destination, but seems confused as to where he has arrived at. It is not so much that 'Bon Iver' is a change of direction. More that it could have been released by almost any other artist this year. Stand-out songs like Perth have all the hall marks of classic Bon Iver, reverb-drenched vocals, delicate melodies and cute harmonies yet these traits are also those of Grizzy Bear, Cults and whoever the hell Brooklyn decides to churn out this week. And they would have done it a little better too.
Sure 'Bon Iver' is a pretty album. It paints lovely pictures of various parts of North America, but the tracks struggle to resonate with the subject matter. Instead Bon Iver plumps for nice sounding but nonsensical soundbites like 'Solar peace/ Well it whirls and sweeps/ You just set it' (Hinnom TX). Lovely, but it doesn't mean a whole lot. Perhaps another comparison should be made. Where 'For Emma' was heartfelt, 'Bon Iver' is vague.
'Bon Iver' is not without interesting ideas. Holocene is sublime and Beth/Rest makes fantastic use of overdrive but tracks like Lisbon are pure filler. Luckily we have Michicant to remind us of Vernon's undoubted talent as a song writer. It is an ode to boyhood, bicycle bell and all. It is simple, playfully rhythmic and reverberates with a sense of loss and nostalgia.
'Bon Iver' is absolutely worth listening to, preferably several times. But after you have done that, listen to Re: Stacks and remember what came before.