Album Review: Bon Iver, “Bon Iver”

USD Radio’s Colleen Dunn reviews indie juggernaut, Bon Iver’s  lauded new self titled album.  The LP offers all of the trademark Justin Vernon components that have made Bon Iver an international indie favorite.

By: Colleen Dunn 

Bon Iver’s sophomore album was almost destined to disappoint. The first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, managed to become insanely popular while still maintaining its indie street cred. Songs like Skinny Love and Blood Bank crept onto the soundtracks of popular shows but succeeded in avoiding the downfall experienced by Foster the People’s summer hit Pumped Up Kicks: constant radio overplay. With their second album Bon Iver must not only meet the high expectations of their fans but also introduce something new to a repertoire that for many, has become as familiar as a lullaby. It is hard in some ways, to hear Vernon’s familiar voice crooning such unfamiliar words with that twinge of heartbreak that we had ceased to notice. The eponymous second album feels like the sound that escapes when a heart breaks. It hurts a little bit, and the hopeful quality that balanced the sorrow of the first album seems absent. This is best seen in the track Holocene, which builds you up with soft guitar picking and then slays you with the line “and at once I knew I was not magnificent.”

The album takes a slightly different direction musically by bringing in new people including a bass saxophonist and pedal-steel guitarist. Beth/Rest begins with an almost 80’s sound musically and Lisbon, OH is entirely music devoid of vocals. Both Minnesota, WI and Hinnom, TX play around with vocals of lower octaves and synthesizers. Despite these new developments, the album contains everything you’d expect from Bon Iver: soft leisurely vocals, gentle guitar strumming coupled with fingers sliding over the strings, and transitions that sometimes allow for a moment of silence. Most of all Bon Iver maintains the haunting quality of lyrics that somehow say exactly how you feel, even though you’re not completely sure what they mean. Towers is a particular strong point on the album with a slight country influence, along with the lullabylike Michicant and the flighty piano riddled Wash.

Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver

For all it’s strong points, it is interesting that Bon Iver chose to release this album in the middle of summer. It’s textured melodies and painfully beautiful vocals feel at odds with lazy days of sunshine and margaritas by the pool. This is not an album to load on your ipod as you head to the beach, or air out with a breeze as you drive around with the windows down. Bon Iver is the soundtrack for a breakup, not a summer fling. Although it is sure to receive more than a few plays before then, this album will not hit it’s stride until months from now when it’s listeners are cozy inside with closed windows and warm sweaters.
Listen to “Calgary”, here.

Bon Iver - Bon Iver