The fact that this album is self-titled is really surprising. A self-titled album usually represents and displays everything the artist embodies. Their most predominant musical characteristics, if you will. For Justin Vernon, Bon Iver is not his standard modus operandi. It’s way better than that.
The album starts off with “Perth,” a really powerful introduction to the journey you will be taking to find a side of Vernon you didn’t hear on For Emma, Forever Ago. “Perth” starts off slow and ends with a big finish. The brush drumming effect throughout the song gets louder and louder, adding trumpets, electric guitar (gasp! That’s almost like Dylan going electric! Almost.) and crashing symbols. You feel like a marching band is going to bust into your room and, to Vernon’s credit, it isn’t cheesy. He makes it work.
The album then flows right into songs like the funkier “Minnesota, WI,” a psychedelic and vivid “Michicant” and “Calgary” (“Skinny Love”: 80’s style,) all of which are not only key tracks on this album, but also should be considered musical accomplishments to Vernon. Also like “Perth,” they’re relatively out of his comfort zone and to experiment on a sophomore album, is downright ballsy and should be respected. (In fear of the dreaded “sophomore slump,” a sophomore album can basically turn into their first album, part deux.) The winteresque atmosphere he possesses on For Emma, Forever Ago is still apparent in his music, Bon Iver is just a more intricate and busy version of it. It’s more apparent that Vernon worked harder to find different instruments to use for a more interesting sound. Organs, bangos, various horns, he’s got it all here. He even uses a little autotune on “Wash.” (which he also used on “Woods” on the 2009 4-track release, Blood Bank EP) Eat your heart out, T-pain!
I’m saving the best for last. This review wouldn’t be finished without mentioning “Towers” which, now, has got to be tied with “Skinny Love” as my favorite Bon Iver song. It’s one of the catchiest songs he’s released and, hands down, the most beautiful song on the album. The song’s core elements are definitely folk, where Vernon usually shines and therefore, the most traditional Bon Iver song on this album. I guess that goes to show that even if Vernon can kick ass experimenting with different sounds, he’s still always going to deliver with that signature back woodsy folk and his eminent high pitched murmur.
8.5 / 10
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