Review Summary: Better than For Emma, Forever Ago? That's for you to find out.6 of 8 thought this review was well writtenDate
: Justin Vernon – Hazeltons
The following eight points are essential; read and memorise them carefully before proceeding to listen to this album or extreme confusion and/or disappointed may ensue. Please be aware that it is best – though not compulsory - to read the subsequent statements in order of presentation.
. In terms of Vernon’s discography, this record fits between DeYarmond Edison
’s Silent Signs
, released in ‘05, and Bon Iver
’s For Emma, Forever Ago
in late ’07. DeYarmond Edison was a folk quartet in which Justin played guitar; after his departure they went on to form the freak folk trio Megafaun
was only ever pressed for a hundred copies; these were sold in Wisconsin’s local music store, packaged and adorned with Vernon’s own personal wildlife photography. The songs themselves still remain somewhat of a rarity and can be difficult to find, even through the use of the internet.
. The production of this album is exceptional given the circumstances it was recorded. Crafted in Vernon’s own amateur studio, the record boasts a crisp, bright sound that lends itself to the joyful, upbeat feel of the first half whilst accentuating the more melancholy, cathartic feel of the last two songs. Unlike the material released under the Bon Iver moniker, Hazeltons
sounds very organic and clean.
. Stylistically, Hazeltons
closes the gap between Vernon’s traditional folk beginning with DeYarmond Edison
and the soulful, experimental leanings explored within Bon Iver.
The open guitar chords and bright, folksy vocal melodies can still be found here, but are more often than not exchanged in favour of the more subdued, sorrowful approach that characterized For Emma, Forever Ago
. When comparing Hazeltons
with his most recent work, the most obvious difference can be found in the delivery of the vocals. The gorgeous falsetto that Vernon would develop in later years is utilized much less frequently and is replaced by his soulful, full baritone voice, giving many of the songs brighter, more focused characteristic. The same is true for the gospel-like harmonies that would become a distinguishable trait for Bon Iver
; instead, much more minimal – yet equally effective – two or three piece harmonies tend to be used.
. Although most tracks on Hazeltons
are unique and refreshing in context, the two standout songs can be found at the beginning and the end of the record. The title track begins with a wonderfully finger picked introduction before introducing Vernon’s powerful, uplifting vocals. The song ends triumphantly with soaring harmonies and several layers of guitar - the complete opposite to the closer. On the other end of the spectrum, “Hanna, My Ophelia” is a terribly mournful tale reliving a burial of a lover. Littered with only a few plucked chords and harmonics, Vernon’s melancholy crooning is incredibly honest and meaningful enough to hit home.
. Tears fall on my muddy feet / I quiver as the pulleys squeak / As they lower you so slowly in the ground / Your niece she sang an angel's song / and, Love, I hope it won't be long / Hanna, I hope it won't be long…
. The only qualm to be made with Hazeltons
is the amount of seemingly useless filler. The dissonant ending to “Liner” and the whole of “Game Night” (a redundant interlude reminiscent of Bon Iver
’s “Team”) subtract from the flow of the whole record and form an unnecessary contrast between them and the rest of the track list. Many songs also could have been condensed significantly; although part of the attraction for “A Song For A Lover of Long Ago” is its lost, meandering feel, shaving a couple of minutes off the end would have been more than justified.
Now that you have read through the information, you are equipped with the prior knowledge necessary to make your listening experience a pleasurable one. You will still have one resounding question: is this album better than For Emma, Forever Ago
? Well that, my friend, is for you to find out.