Plumbiferous Media

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Jul 3rd 2011
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Bon Iver - Bon IverBon Iver
Bon Iver
Score: 93

As Bon Iver opens, Justin Vernon’s otherworldly tones ring out into a cautious but richly melodic flow, promptly accompanied by the thudding march of “Perth”‘s baseline. This is the sort of introduction that demonstrates Bon Iver’s sound perfectly, in all of its grooves and facets, each nuance illuminated for just long enough to allow the listener to revel in its insight. “Minnesota, WI” follows, carefully outlined by Colin Stetson’s saxophone. As Vernon sings “Settle past a patience where wishes and your will are spilling pictures / Water’s running through in the valley where we grew to write this scripture,” it’s impossible not to see those very pictures in the layers of music that greet each moment.

Bon Iver isn’t always focused on the nuance – it’s just as capable of soaring through a musical landscape, with tracks like “Towers” and “Calgary”. The former carries Vernon’s voice through a hopeful, reminiscent, and thorougly obscured tale, pushed forward by the determination of “Fuck the fiercest fables, I’m with Hagen” and slowed by the painful passion of “Well, you’re standing on my sternum / Don’t you climb down, darling.” The latter is a deeply metaphoric affair – as Vernon tells it, a tale of a lifetime of love that opens with with the cautionary “Don’t you cherish me to sleep” and closes with the content “Oh the demons come, they can subside.” The two are entirely different, and yet Vernon and Bon Iver manage to make them sonically eloquent in much the same way – without the trap of repetition that a less creative group might have fallen into.

Bon Iver takes such a range of musical approaches that it might be surprising that it comes together well, but it does with very few exceptions. There are scattered misses – a second here or there that doesn’t mesh with its surroundings as well as one might hope, a line that comes off as confusing rather than the intended cryptic – but they’re few and far between compared to what Bon Iver does right. Each moment is carefully constructed to support the next and the last, each as enthralling as the last. Bon Iver experiments without losing its sound, moves fluidly without slipping into a stream of musical consciousness, and expresses emotional breadth in an immense range perfectly suited for the group’s musical range. The group draws from jazz, from rock, and from folk to create a sound that is all its own – but in which well-placed influence and well-learned lessons are clear. Bon Iver certainly isn’t 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago – and, while that album was excellent, that’s a good thing. Instead, it’s something completely new – and something exciting.

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