Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Two years ago, in the confines of my bedroom, I listened to the debut of a man whom, allegedly, recorded the majority of the album alone in a log cabin in the middle of a winter forest. This debut, though minimal in its plucking of guitar strings and percussion, rewarded my listening with one of the most warming and passionate voices - an instrument in itself - I'd heard for some time.

It's 2011 and Bon Iver - real name Justin Vernon - has released his second, now self-titled, release...expanding on his use of folk-influenced acoustics and instrumentally-esque vocal ranges. This time, however, the guitars have been expanded in direction, the vocals interchanged between registers and Vernon brings with it a warming overlay of brass instrumentation.

The opening track 'Perth' is a clear example of the self-title's versatility in sound - a slow build-up of sound that suddenly opens up to reveal layers of plucked guitars, acoustic and electric alike; marching drums and a backing of harmonic voices. All of which is the perfect curtain rise for Vernon's vocals to bring it all together. A togetherness, which by half-way, has already brought about the blossoming at which the music expands through the speakers.

It's this build-up and eventual expansion that continues throughout the first half of the record - Holocene led by a light-hearted chord and clapping of hands with vocals and percussion taking control. Towers, meanwhile, is primarily guitar-driven - drums occasionally rustling through a beat or two, the order once more changed.

Indeed, there's no doubt from the soundscapes generated in these songs, that Vernon is more confident in himself with his vocals. As with the album artwork, For Emma, Forever Ago portrayed a lonely chilly ambience of minimal instrumentation led only by the sense of what could be beyond. Bon Iver, on the other hand, like its cover portrays a more open exploration - the sense that there is indeed so much to seek but nothing that is so inorganic and altered it cannot portray emotion.

The irony is, is that Vernon has found himself delving into alteration. Hinnom, TX carries a swaying distortion of sound while Calgary's organ-like ambience brings the song to life - vocals uplifting Vernon's voice while distant guitar chords and off-tune brass gives the track a bumbling out-door early-morning vibe.

But it's the albums curtain-caller that really marks itself as the stand-out moment here - Lisbon, OH providing a short droning call of distorted chords and old-age bleeps and bloops before sailing off into the album's closer, Beth/Rest. Upon even the first few dozen seconds, you'd be forgiven for thinking Iver has gone all 80's cheesy lovey-dovey pop rock on us. The irony that it works - it's an 80's pop song, done right. Vernon's rise-and-fall of lyrics, accompanied by on-step keys and electric string bliss, brings to life the experience of surrounding. Indeed, Vernon has accomplished one thing in that his sound really has brought about that idea of being one man standing alone. Alone, but curious.

Experimentation is never a bad thing, Vernon's direction on 'Bon Iver' is a clear indication of change of thought and a tenacity for changes in song structure. Unfortunately, where the experimentation gains, the warmth felt in his debut, has all but been forgotten. Has it been replaced by the leadership-like quality of Vernon's vocal range or is it just lost underneath the sea of stretched chords and light-hearted percussion? Either way, 'Bon Iver' is an interesting step out from the confines of 'For Emma...'. It's only a matter of time though before we find out if this courageous step into the cold of the outdoor is in actuality, a brave move.


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