Bon Iver’s New Album Devoid Of Organic Power
By Brad Hamilton
Modern Times Magazine .com
June 21, 2011 — So here it is, Bon Iver from Bon Iver.
Justin Vernon’s followup to For Emma, Forever Ago, is officially available for sale and gathering praise. For those who might not know Bon Iver, it is a band formed after songwriter Justin Vernon found himself without a band and sequestered himself in a small hunting cabin in Wisconsin not knowing where his life was headed.
What he did in that cabin is create For Emma, Forever Ago, a cutting edge album for its use of emotion through a single man’s lonely sound and the ever present layered, stylized, falsetto vocals of Justin Vernon. Could he take a style sown from grief and repeat it years later when success had changed his perspective from isolated loner to an emerging musical force who works with Kanye West? Would the impact of working with Sean Carey (drums, vocals, piano), Michael Noyce (vocals, baritone guitar, guitar) and Matthew McCaughan (bass)
ruin the simple yet intricate gentleness of For Emma, Forever Ago?
Sadly, Vernon wasn’t able to pull it off. While there are some real bright spots on the album, the almost complete lack of acoustic guitar accompaniment to Vernon’s highly stylized lyrics saps the songs of most of the organic brilliance that For Emma, Forever Ago spread like a sunbeam on a cold winter’s day. The effect-laden vocals with traditional acoustic guitar accompaniment were a definition and reflection of where the world is.
Bon Iver is the loss of self in the Facebook world.
By no means has Vernon lost it, but the choices that were made in regard to how the melodies and lyrics were recorded resulted in sounds that did not work as well together as the stylized vocal and simple acoustic guitar of For Emma, Forever Ago.
Yes, there are bright spots, but none as bright as the brightest spot on For Emma, Forever Ago, the track that was named the National Public Radio track of the Day, "Skinny Love."
You can hear it for yourself while it is still available for review in its entirety on National Public Radio. This free listen must be part of the same sort of marketing seen in the first album when it was available on MySpace (remember that?) in its entirety before it was released.
Track by track notes
The album starts off with a clean guitar sound that ends up not really being “clean.” Intense surrealistic harmonies. Seems like the auto tuner is used as well. Nice bit of old-time military drumming on the snare into lead which then explodes into modern, surround sounds. But the auto tuner seems to be in effect everywhere. I wish I could make out more of the lyrics the first few times through, but that is not the style here. Decent use of horns but truly a multi-layered piece of well crafted, modern music.
Glad to hear Vernon not relying solely on falsetto although it is still there. But the layered harmonic lead with himself is both ethereal and overdone.
Nice use of slide pedal steel guitar.
A bit more upbeat, but still the same falsetto. More guitar dominant with the heavy organ overtones with very little usage of drums. Does a nice transition into a modern age type of country rock period piece that has a bit more weight to it.
At this point, the album is becoming a repetition of songs that are so familiar and the voice is so effects-laden that it is really hard to tell them apart. Still really hard to make out most of the lyrics.
Electric piano used on this track is akin to a late 1980s new wave band but, freaky. Vernon goes back to a man’s voice, not a man’s who wants to be a boy. This really is a freaky song that uses modern effects and what seems lie a perpetual reverb effect to provide the main melody throughout the entire tome. It really is a wonder of music making. But it seems more experimental than musical — like a mashup of “Revolution No. 9” and something from Simple Minds.
Strings added to a solitary piano and the return of the famous Bon Iver effect auto-tuner voice. Works well although keep expecting everything to just pickup at some point, but this album seems to be on the precipice of something else. Perhaps that is the magic of Bon Iver: the suspense of each note.
Vernon’s homage to 1980s music again, perhaps? Nice work, though. Although I would still love to hear a cleaner, more organic voice, or a return to more organic music instrument choices. The effects overkill is very prominent here.
A totally cool and complete electric piano, effects turn at something is the ride on this song. Not so seemingly groundbreaking as “Hinnom, TX,” but still a cool work that utilizes the grandest impact of reverb, organ, effects and harmonization. Nice job on this solely instrumental piece.
This track provides a glimpse — a closer feel — of what Vernon's voice really is and it sounds good.
Brad Hamilton is a freelance writer currently living in Tempe, Ariz.
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