CD CHOICE: Bon Iver4AD ****
When Justin Vernon released his debut album ( Forever Emma, Forever Ago) in 2008, people focused on how the its mythology and how the songs had come about. There was talk of Vernon holed up in a log cabin in the woods, like some musical version of Bear Gryllis.
In fact, Vernon did decamp to his father’s Wisconsin cabin to recover after an eventful, seesaw year. The songs were written afterwards, but there was an indelible connection to the woods. Sense of place influences Vernon, and on his second album he takes it further.
Of the 10 fully formed tracks, all but one has a titular nod to a specific place, from cities to favoured hang-outs. Vernon acknowledges the geographic, public spaces that impact on him. On opening track Perth, he declares: “This is not a place/ Not yet awake, I’m raised to make” and we know, he has moved on – physically, musically – from where he was in 2008.
The multi-tracked vocals are still there, but there’s a plumpness to the sound, of big horns and marching-tempo drumrolls. It slips seamlessly into Minnesota, WI, as acoustic guitar arpeggios complement horns, pedal steel and banjo. The sound is helped by bandmates Michael Noyce, Sean Carey and Matthew McCaughan. Holocenejuxtaposes the very same instruments but offers something slower, more reflective.
The second half of the album revels in its differences. Calgaryis one of several tracks that dabbles with varying 1980s synths, from atmospheric drones to Hinnom, TX, a jittery, dream sequence of hammered piano chords. Lisbon, OHis all bleeps and guitar-synth feedback, as if someone had put a brick on the sustain pedal.
Up to this point, Vernon seems very assured, right down to the waltz tempo of Michicant. Then comes the closing curveball of Beth/Rest, a dry-ice power ballad of faux-piano chords.
Vernon never compromises, and Bon Iver was never going to be For Emma Part 2. It’s a work of imagination, even if you can’t stop thinking of Karate Kid IIwhen the album ends. See boniver.org
Download tracks: Holocene, Wash, Hinnom, TX