Oh the places you will go, Justin Vernon.
What started as a small project – under the moniker Bon Iver – in a isolated cabin located in the north woods of Wisconsin has led to Vernon selling thousands of albums, headlining festivals, and smoking the stickiest of the icky with hip-hop goliaths Rick Ross and Kanye West in Hawaii. Add in various musical endeavors with Volcano Choir and Gayngs, and you’d have to suspect Vernon has accomplished more than he ever envisioned when he was heartbroken in Wisconsin.
His second full-length album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the result of these experiences. A more confident and trusting Vernon is present here, as he is armed with a remarkably talented full band instead of the minimalist approach he used on the debut. Together they have composed the most remarkable album of 2011.
While For Emma, Forever Ago had the focused agony of a man baring his soul, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is more vibrant – a rebirth of sorts for Vernon. The 10 tracks are an exploration of warm sounds and rich textures yet still gives off a vague ambience, thus creating some spectacular juxtapositions within the album. There’s a lot to take in on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, as your senses try to process everything flowing through your speakers. Vernon has moved on from the isolation of For Emma, Forever Ago and has emerged reinvigorated on his second full length.
The inviting opener “Perth” flows with gentle guitar riffs and steadfast drum beats as it re-introduces us to Vernon’s delicious falsetto. Rather than take the minimalist approach from For Emma, everything here is fleshed out a lot more, and it shows on tracks like the beautiful “Holocene.” Perhaps the front runner for best song of 2011, “Holocene” is a brassy and anguished five and a half minute adventure that showcases Vernon’s grandiose voice. This track is a prime example of why Vernon had been emphasizing the full band aspect over the past few years, as saxophonist Colin Stetson and drummer S. Carey create the perfect canvas for Vernon’s haunting words.
The upbeat “Towers” is bursting with scintillating electric guitars and swelling strings, while “Minnesota, WI” is a delightful fusion of folk and R&B, ranging from banjos to subtle horns. The musicianship throughout Bon Iver, Bon Iver is free-flowing and never constrictive, allowing for expansive and exploratory musicianship to take place.
Working with a full band this time has taken Vernon’s vocals to a whole different level – his voice more often than not works as an additional instrument. Vernon reaches celestial heights on “Wash.” as his voice is the driving point amongst scant piano plucks and lavish strings. The elegant pop of “Calgary” contains a sharp pace that leans heavily on Vernon’s restless falsetto.
Vernon and company boldly embrace 80’s pop by closing with “Beth/Rest,” which may be the best song Peter Gabriel never wrote. The track is smoothly executed, and, despite being light on irony and thick on cheese, it still has that signature Bon Iver sound at its core. “Beth/Rest” destroys any preconceptions you might have had of Vernon, but after everything he has done over the past few years spanning different genres (his roles with Volcano Choir, Gayngs, and Kanye West), this type of track shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
Bon Iver, Bon Iver presents a much bigger sound than previous efforts, but it still contains the same intimacy as before, as this record is just as complex as it is accessible. Throughout the 10 tracks, Vernon is creating impressions rather than making statements, with each listen leaving more and more of an impact on you. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is Vernon’s triumphant re-emergence from those lonely worlds back into the world.