Review Summary: Quiet indie folk rock and soundscaping shape an impressive sophomore album.
Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was met with high critical acclaim in 2008. Two years later the band’s leading representative, Justin Vernon, collaborated with Kanye West for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. With a new wave of fans and more exposure, some fans wondered which direction Vernon would go in. Will Kanye’s autotune be a bigger influence on the new album? Will the band go the techno hoodie route? The tempo doesn’t pick up much, but the music doesn’t lose its depth either.
Bon Iver’s self-titled album opens with “Perth,” a slow-burning atmospheric track that features soldier-drumming and warm horns, reminiscent of Sufjan Steven’s more orchestrated songs. “Holocene” is a soft ballad that taps into Bruce Springsteen’s gentler acoustic side. Bon Iver’s lyrics were always strong, but even in his timid high-pitched voice, Vernon makes listeners feel the emotion in his realization when he sings “…and at once, I knew, I was not magnificent.”
“Tower” takes a step into alternative-country territory, the land where Ryan Adams and My Morning Jacket sometimes hang in limbo. “Hinnom, TX” is slightly experimental, reminiscent of early Animal Collective and late-career Pink Floyd
The album features electronic effects that normally wouldn’t fit natural with folk music, but the use is so subtle that it enhances the music instead of being a distraction. Most notable is the random use of autotune, which has polarized fans in the past.
“Calgary” gives a bit of energy to an otherwise very mellow album. Vernon’s tenderness in his vocal delivery is as moving as Bob Dylan’s best ballad, backed with an eclectic ambience mastered by Peter Gabriel 25 years ago. The album concludes with “Beth/Rest,” an‘80s throwback with autotune, a saxophone, and electric guitar that seems to already have fans very polarized. With an album that is slow-paced and have a strong emphasis on ambience and atmosphere, a little experimentation keeps it interesting.
Bon Iver takes an eclectic edgier approach to folk, but not quite to the same extent that Sufjan Steven does. Bon Iver’s songs are quiet and controlled, but relying on this formula could possibly hinder the band with its future releases. Its sophomore album is a solid effort, but hopefully on the next release Bon Iver can pick up the tempo. Nevertheless, slow and easy still sounds damn good with Vernon’s voice behind it.