Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver



by joshuatree EMERITUS
May 24th, 2011 | 1923 replies

Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Each song acts like a personal journal entry, documenting Justin Vernon’s experience back with the living.

Bon Iver’s debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, was immensely popular in a kind of way that seemed to undoubtedly foretell disaster, or at least some sort of disappointment, for its successor. This was because Emma wasn’t exactly well-regarded due to, say, originality or whatever, but because of the album’s background, its mythology, and how it perfectly presented its narrative. Its story – which is such a well-trod tale that I feel as if I need not repeat; go read some other review for that stuff – overwhelmed, overshadowed, and became the album itself. We, as listeners, couldn’t help but consider the personal hells Vernon fought through to record Emma, and these thematic associations created some sort of unique emotional impact or resonation upon a listen to the album: every lyric seemed painfully and particularly personal, every song seemed chokingly yet intimately intense.

Thing is, this saddles Bon Iver’s eponymous follow-up with unrealistic expectations that it doesn’t deserve. Yet they exist nonetheless: we yearn hungrily to be whisked back to that same emotional state we were at when we heard Emma for the first time, regardless of whether that’s fair to Vernon or not. We want this album to mean as much to us as its predecessor did.

Perhaps this is why Bon Iver, Bon Iver doesn’t take too many drastic, dramatic risks. It’s essentially the album we’ve expected, something that’s more relaxed and confident – the latter aspect reflecting Vernon’s success, most probably; you don’t guest on a Kanye West album and not come away feeling pretty great about yourself, I’d imagine – but it’s still very much For Emma’s successor, still very much a Justin Vernon album. Most notably, Vernon manages to retain the same intimacy and immediacy of a singer-songwriter album while operating in a full-band format, increasing his sonic palette and resulting in songs that seem sturdier, more full-bodied. “Holocene,” for instance, sounds tired, wistful, causing Vernon’s signature falsetto to seem a little more frayed and appealingly haggard than usual, and this is all augmented by Colin Stetson’s smooth, slithering saxophone and S. Carey’s muddled, endearingly imperfect drum rolls. These elements gather to form a richly satisfying whole, thanks to the assistance.

Other songs are just as statuesque, as confident, and stand as the best material Vernon has ever composed. “Towers,” with bright, shimmering electric guitars strumming instead of an acoustic, is rejuvenating and exhilarating. “Michican’t,” along with having an awesome-ass title, is a meditative self-reflection that acts as a summarization of a winter in solitude, along with being stirringly soulful and passionate in its own right. And “Beth/Rest,” the initially befuddling closer, is a campy, retro-sounding (perhaps some of that Gayngs influence?) epic that sounds as if there should be room for Kenny G guest spot, but ends up being just as enjoyable in its own, somewhat strange way.

Elsewhere, Bon Iver is simply the lush-est, loveliest album of the year. “Towers” and “Wash.,” in particular, are two of the warmest, most inviting songs I’ve heard in a long, long time; they each seem to weirdly possess the aural consistency of a warm blanket, or a nice cup of cocoa. Vernon’s voice is the main draw: his singing has improved tenfold, elevating to stratospheric and angelic heights and then descending to a low rumble, a restless sigh, or a breathless declaration, all within minutes. It makes a song like “Wash.” possible, a minimalistic piece driven by little more than alternating piano plucks, relying on Vernon’s expansive vocal range to color in the spaces, which he does so appropriately. He’s never flashy – sometimes his vocals blend in chameleon-like with their surroundings, like in “Calgary,” where he essentially becomes just another instrument – but he’s always effective, often perfectly so.

A little more on “Calgary”: its opening, which finds Vernon’s vocals at their most incomprehensible and atmospheric, lost and jumbled against an imposing wall of frosty synths, is the most important few minutes of Bon Iver. Here, Vernon gets lost in the framework of the other musicians’ input, lost within a crowd. Compare this to For Emma, a solitary record, documenting not only one man’s exile from others, but, in turn, a whole generation of alienated individuals. On For Emma, Justin Vernon was the voice of his depressed, displaced age. Bon Iver is that man coming to his senses and joining the world again. The entire album is a collaborative project, in that sense; yet each song acts like a personal journal entry, documenting Justin Vernon’s experience back with the living, after being with the ghosts of memory for some time. This experience is always narrated by Vernon, which is why Bon Iver has that exact sound that we all figured it would: it’s the same man, just at a different point in time.

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user ratings (2576)
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • Sowing STAFF (4.5)

    luci (4)
    This is not the sound of a new man....

    MarvellousG (4.5)
    It might not top the (now almost sacred) For Emma, Forever Ago, but Bon Iver's sophomore e...

    Jeffort23 (4.5)
    Gorgeous-sounding and elusive, Bon Iver, Bon Iver doesn't have the compelling back story o...

  • Douglas (4.5)
    Just like a sherbet bomb; sweet on the outer, and brilliant within....

    JonbeezBlue (5)
    Bon Iver's beautiful follow up to For Emma, Forever Ago which sees the band delve into soa...

    Chunky97 (4.5)
    "Bon Iver, Bon Iver" is a beautiful masterpiece, full of wonderful melodies and well-craft...

    rebel86 (4)
    Quiet indie folk rock and soundscaping shape an impressive sophomore album....

  • Teo (3.5)
    The search continues, but it's not clear where......

    garth (5)
    Mr Vernon, you are magnificent....

    JustinVernonBeard (5)
    Beauty, Nature, Passion, and Hope....

    Indielens (5)
    The fuller sound of Bon Iver....

Comments:Add a Comment 
May 24th 2011


Fantastic review. Can't wait to listen to this.

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

Awesome. Beth/Rest is incredible

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5

Album is a MASSIVE grower. "For Emma" is a depressive heartbreak album, where as this is about rebirth/rejuvenation. Getting better with every listen. 4/5 right now

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5

massive massive grower, I'll be interested to see what the average ends up being. I think i'm gonna bump thisto a 4.5 soon.

Cam, I love your reviews, and this was no exception. I'm glad you like the album so much.

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5

The album name should be changed to Bon Iver, Bon Iver.

And this is just beautiful. Probably the closest thing that'll get to a 5.

May 24th 2011


"they each seem to weirdly possess the aural consistency of a warm blanket, or a nice cup of cocoa, or whatever."

I love this line, but I wish you'd ditch the ", or whatever" at the end; it isn't necessary and i think the line improves without it. :]

May 24th 2011


terrific review. just like your wild hunt review, you make me want to go over this album agaain.

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

Haven't listened to this yet, I really don't want to be disappointed.

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

Cool to see a review up so early. Great review too.

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

great review, amazing album. i can see myself fiving it

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

At first, I thought that it didn't even compare to For Emma, so I blocked that album out essentially and went on listening and found myself really digging the album. That alone and I rate it barely a 4.5. But I found out that I was just skimming the surface of what this album really is. It wasn't until I decided to make a Bon Iver playlist of just For Emma and this that I truly understood and am in shock as to what I hear.

This album shouldn't be listened to separately from For Emma but rather right after because they are so connected. Thanntos had it right in that For Emma is about depression while this one is about rejuvenation.

Now I'm so freaking close to a 5.

May 24th 2011


took your advice foreverendeared

and yeah this album's pretty great guys

May 24th 2011


k need

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

Great review. I could definitely see this growing to the level of For Emma with me.

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 5.0

not fair that we have to wait til 6/20

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

yessssssss good work i wrote something for this and it was a tad complimentary

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 3.0

This is good

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Album of the year, thus far.

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Really nice write up.

Bath/rest is totes the music from a death scene on Police Academy 4 guys

May 24th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Holocene is godly

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