Justin Vernon’s sophomore release Bon Iver, Bon Iver
is a flourishing, pastoral folk album that will elevate you to the pristine mountains of northwestern Wisconsin. There, you will find that not only has Vernon prepared another rich and vibrant soundscape for you, but that he has also put some coal on the fire to take the chill off the wintry For Emma
gusts that still occasionally leak through the drafty, boarded-up cabin walls. Wrapped in a blanket of comfort and familiarity, your mind begins to drift towards your journey to what has become one of your most beloved destinations: thoughtful isolation.
Trudging down the frost-bitten hills, you see in the valley a quaint white cabin resting gently in a circle of pine trees; they seem to embrace it and offer it protection from the harsh elements of winter. The color of the cabin subtly alludes to the much grander surrounding landscape, a mix of patchy green foliage and snowcapped mountain tops. The picturesque qualities of the image in your mind are enhanced by the gentle acoustic strums of ‘Perth’, which seem to embody the slow thaw of winter occurring all around you. As your footsteps lead you closer to the once distant shack, majestic drum beats echo your every pace in a fashion that is both eloquent and ominous. Like a grand proclamation, the music has announced your arrival to Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Peering off to your right, a small body of water is visible. The instrumentation temporarily ceases, allowing a tender string serenade to overcome your ears. The lake is a mirror; reflective and lifeless yet, like the pause in the music, strangely uplifting. The acoustic picking in the background starts to take shape again, ringing like chimes composed of icicles. Before you know it, the confident, reigning percussion of ‘Holocene’ causes the frozen mirror to crack, and the formation of miniature icebergs set sail in front of a backlit canvas of sunlight that has just peaked its head through the clouds. The shimmering guitars and angelic vocal harmonies of ‘Towers’ are colossal in their own right, endowing Bon Iver, Bon Iver
with a sense of regality and leaving you dumbfounded. Gazing at a true work of art in both music and nature, you proceed along towards your destination with a newfound sense of perspective.
As you take those final steps towards the threshold, you find yourself passing through a cold wave of memories, depression, and self-loathing. The ringing of a bicycle leads you back to the optimism of your childhood, along with your hopes and dreams – some triumphantly reached, and others left by the wayside. The low, fuzzy drum beats of ‘Michican’t’ embody the heartbreak from those abandoned dreams, and the upbeat ‘Hinnom, TX’, complete with glistening synths and echoing falsetto, act as a soundtrack for memories of your most cherished accomplishments. As you put your hand on the doorknob, you realize just how familiar this place is – and that it isn’t even a physical place
to begin with. Its beauty isn’t in the woodlands, the sparkling surface of the water, or the clear blue skies…it is in your ability to escape reality, even if just for a moment, and get truly lost in your own mind. That’s why you came here a winter ago, humming along to For Emma
and struggling just to hear your own thoughts over the pain emanating from your unrequited love, shattered hopes, and desperate quest to find meaning in life. Now that the snow has melted and the world seems
much less depressing, you have come to rediscover that beautifully tragic feeling.
What awaits on the other side of that door is something more beautiful than you ever could have anticipated: acceptance. ‘Wash.’ And ‘Calgary’ hit your entire body with a wave of warm air, and you suddenly feel at home again. It’s the same way For Emma
made you feel, but that seems like…well, forever ago. Something has changed, from the sunlight peaking through the shutters to the subtle undertones of contentment. Synths and strings sway liberally, horns blast out joyfully, and Justin Vernon is singing in a delightfully soulful falsetto that, like a warm cup of cocoa in front of the fireplace, has you in a trance. You begin to ask yourself what home really is…is it just some place where we keep all of our shi
t? Is it made up of four walls and a roof? Or does it transcend things that merely physically exist
– and comprise itself of emotions that we attach to certain places? Or maybe home is just an imaginary place – a feeling of acceptance that we chase for our entire lives but never quite find. The pensive echoes of ‘Beth/Rest’ swirl around you, and gently fade away as you realize that none of that matters as long as you know what home means to you
. Still wrapped in that blanket, you let out a relieved sigh, sink down into the couch cushion a little more, and put Bon Iver, Bon Iver
on for another spin.