Bon Iver – Bon Iver (4AD)

June 9, 2011 by  

Bon Iver’s return to the full spectrum of waiting fans and critics has been long spent. ‘For Emma, Forever Ago, the debut from principal protagonist Justin Vernon was so well-received that touring in support of the album took over 3 years to complete. Throughout this time, Vernon garnered a posse of adoring fans from lengths and breadths probably more far-reaching than even he imagined, perhaps most notably illustrated as a contributor on two tracks on the most recent Kanye West opus.

We’re often led back to the processes that led Vernon to create ‘For Emma’, spending 4 desperate months alone in a woodshed in the forests of Wisconsin. And we are constantly reminded of this influence, even in name, as Bon Iver coming from the French ‘bon hiver’ translating as ‘good winter’. Such was the power and smack of that record, we can still wax lyrical about it now, so it is always a danger that you can miss something in the transition when welcoming the follow up to such a monumental success story like we have here.

Usually in cases like this, here we’ be telling you about creative brick walls, lost recording sessions and scrapped demos but in truth, though Vernon is a deliciously complex character in nature, the biggest problems he encountered when recording ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ were finding the time to write and craft these songs in the brief moments of calm between tours and also completing the building of his recording studio in which the album was recorded.

This time, there was no retreat – the solemnity of the first record is slightly diminished – as the album was completed close to where Vernon grew up and spent a lot of his formative years. The principal sound of Bon Iver remains, but this feels more like a band effort, beefed up by added instrumentation and a progressive attitude. Long time collaborators and touring musicians make their presences felt, even providing lead vocals on occasion. And there are more drum parts noted here giving a rounded off structure to this record’s dealings.

What’s perhaps most striking about this album though is the way the songs sound. Electric guitars, clear and booming echo through your speakers and bounce off the walls, and the hushed confusion and lo-fi buzz of the Bon Iver of old is gone. This is demonstrated immediately as the opening track ‘Perth’ kicks in; a minute later the drums enter the foray and we are treated to an opening of songs that have an air of familiarity but also feel like we’re stepping onto untested ground for the first time. Like coming out of the woodshed after a harsh winter, we are surely experiencing the euphoria of a new dawn with this, a brand new Bon Iver.

The album’s key themes are of a homecoming of sorts. ‘For Emma’ was an ode to lost love, but this album also brings new ideas. Quaint, and still bashful there are still songs that express desperation and hopelessness, but this time they are married to their opposites. This album is more about a return to old haunts which still inspire Vernon and have done from a seemingly early age.

By the end of the record, the uplifting melancholy of closer ‘Beth/Rest’ is just another striking reminder that we have witnessed a truly stunning shift in front of our eyes. Vernon has returned home to find more about himself than even he banked on. Whatever your expectations of this album, they will most likely by the end of your first listen be a shattered mess of appeased angst on the floor of your bedroom. It certainly floored me when I heard it, but you can’t help but see this record as the thawing of that good winter. Bon hiver? Maybe bon printemps? Whatever it is, it is still most certainly ‘bon’.

[rating:4.5]


Comments