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Essential Zappa: Phaze Two
ween comp
Understanding Boognish:
The Best of Ween
drag comp
Drag: A Witch House
Essential Zappa: Phaze One
Radiohead Album Series
It Took the Night to Believe
Killing in Style
Cadillac Casanovas
A Night in the Box
Brasil, Para Sempre!
Same As It Ever Was:
The Best of Talking Heads
Universe Dirt
The Best of
American Music Club
The New Dance
Cut the Kids in Half
Machines of Canterbury
Archimedes Said It Best
The Early Rock of
West Germany
Music from
the Republic of Iceland
Take Me Back:
The Best of M. Ward
The Best of...
Of Montreal
Dust & Diamonds
The Best of
Sigur Ros
The Hall of Mirrors

Review: Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Rating: 4.25 out of 5
Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the second album from musician Justin Vernon and, this time around, a large group of friends and collaborators that flesh out his full band. Vernon became quite the indie superstar in 2008 when For Emma, Forever Ago was released and subsequently worshiped by critics and listeners alike. The story behind the album’s genesis; Vernon’s Thoreau-ian escape to the snowy Wisconsin wilderness in solitude to write and record the album, went a long way in carting the albums reputation ahead to peak interest. You know, I promised myself I’d write this review without mentioning that story—but it’s almost impossible because it’s such a part of mythos of the band, and this album is part of the same conversation.

 Some may mistake Bon Iver for your standard singer-songwriter affair. All the signs are there: personal stories and subjective truths, support by a band as opposed to being a part of one, and that damn cliched acoustic guitar. But it's the vocal delivery that separates this album, which often feels channeled from some deeper pit of the soul; like an amnesiac finding moral in the fractured fables of his lost, but slowly returning, memories. The songs start out simple and fold out like landscapes to support the vocal wanderings in a freeform poetic style that, quite honestly, isn't always easy to understand. The narrator here isn't just telling stories, they're being experienced as we listen.

armour let it through, borne the arboretic truth you kept posing
sat down in the suit, fixed on up it wasn’t you by finished closing
ramble in the roots, had the marvel, moved the proof be kneeled fine’s glowing
storing up the clues, it had its sullen blue bruised through by showing

The confidence of Vernon's voice and delivery is what takes the abstract lyricism from an excuse not to write good coherent passages an impressive artistic performance. He never misses a beat, as if this sort of diction is exactly how things went down. He doesn't always enunciate. Like a Cocteau Twins or My Bloody Valentine song, the words are obscured just enough to either drive you to look them up, or just not care about them and let the feeling of the words take hold. Both avenues pay off. Knowing the twisted verse of these songs makes the songs a much deeper experience. You can find the threads of story telling within the broken reflections of lost memories. But you don't need to know what the narrator is saying to feel the juxtaposition of haunting melancholy and subdued celebration of this album.

Where For Emma was stark and raw, Bon Iver is cold and whispy. Probably the most chilly album released this Summer. There's no absence of reverb on any one song. The glossy FM keyboards of songs like "Minnesota, WI" and "Hinnom, TX" give the album a gossamer glow, while the newly added saxophones and french horns, quality production, and ever present acoustic guitar keep things warm and organic to balance. Album closer "Beth/Rest" is far less kind on the organic side of things, and may come off a bit cheesy. The earnesty of the song keeps it grounded, but it still reminds me of this year's Destroyer album Kaputt or some chill-wave experiment without the irony. The song structures seem very much a slave to Vernon's vocal acrobatics, but progressive tracks like album opener "Perth" and "Calgary" are more successful because the instruments get their chance to speak out.

If the first half of this album were what made up Bon Iver, I honestly would have given it a perfect 5 out of 5. It flows perfectly, one song into the other, one theme into the next. Every song is integral. Things get a bit uneven on the second half, though. Side two opener "Hinnom, TX" features the bravest of vocal experiments by Vernon, exercising his falsetto and baritone on top of each other with unintentionally comical results that end up being an unwelcome distraction. "Calgary" is beautiful and a worthy first single, but is sometimes lost in it's attempt to do too many things all at once. Aside from an absolutely worthless interlude in "Lisbon, OH", none of the songs are bad by any means, they're simply spotty, and don't hold up to the solidity of side one.

No matter your opinion on Bon Iver or For Emma, it is hard to argue that the two are not companions. For Emma was about escape, healing, and regret. The narrator has recessed into his consciousness on Bon Iver to relive, accept, and heal from the events, one song at a time. The concept is there, running strong throughout the album. The songwriting carrying the concept stumbles from time to time, mostly on the second half, but it does an incredible job creating an atmosphere, giving the story a place to live and grow.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5
Standout Tracks: "Perth", "Holocene", "Michicant", "Calgary", "Beth/Rest"

Check out the video to first single Calgary below:

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