Monday, June 13, 2011

One Week

The new Bon Iver has been streamed, and now all I want is to have a hard copy in my hands. This musical cross-country tour with the men of Bon Iver is a heartwarming paddle upstream from the dark and wintery cabin sounds of 2008's genius debut album, For Emma. Shining keyboard notes and twinkling acoustic riffs swim peacefully beneath lead singer Justin Vernon's angelic lead; a man who's obviously grown leaps and bounds since the inaugural LP. This modern-day Leonard Cohen has proved himself again, in the most sincere and modest of ways, that his wisdom is beyond us.

The album gets better with each listen. Gorgeous instrumental concepts that support his profound story-telling prove this to be more of a multi-faceted and rich historical account of Vernon's young life. His voice is liberated and soulful, and his words represent a willingness to dig a little deeper than the surface wounds of some traumatic and unhappy years that we heard about on For Emma and Blood Bank (EP). This time, he takes us specifically to a number of American locations, poetically pokes at their personal significance, and wows us with bigger instruments than we would have thought he was willing to feature.

One of the first stops on the long haul is "Minnesota, WI", a calming blend of sounds that stirs flashes of synth and slow-rock horns in between Vernon's deeper croons and hurried strings. A song for when the sun goes down, it picks up and falls back into heavy picking and his spotlighted squealing of the words, "Never gonna break, never gonna break." One of my immediate favourites and possibly the shining moment on this album is "Towers" - a rural-sounding, casually-strummed classic at first listen. Melodic and vocally fresh, the quiet beginning swings into a more upbeat Guthries-sounding country loop, where the layered horns and twangy guitars are scattered like leaves during a walk in Vernon's woods. "Holoscene", a haunting track, has introspective significance written all over it. Xylophone and bashful vocals support the Milwaukee lyrical references that Vernon detailed to Pitchfork: "Guess what adults do on Halloween in Milwaukee? They get blind drunk and try to forget about their childhoods." You'll hear that.

"Michicant", a favourite in this book of poems, adds to the collection of liberated journal entries. Chants and clicking beats back Vernon as he sways side to side with words like "Love can hardly leave the room, with your heart." He sticks his head in the clouds on "Hinnom, TX", echoing U2's atmospheric-sounding sentiment with a dreamy opening loop. The first single that was released won the hearts of return-listeners everywhere, as Vernon continued to sift through memories on "Calgary", an impressive instrumental and harmonic performance. As soon as I heard this, I knew we were in for an album filled with brighter and more intimate glimpses into Vernon's previous bouts of cabin fever and current creative re-birth.

Similar to the reactions that spawned from hearing "Woods" on Blood Bank, an acapella autotune experiement, "Beth/Rest" is the unexpected but fascinating oddity of this LP. After I laughed naively at Jimmy Fallon and Vernon during their recent interview when Fallon discussed the appearances of "more [Bruce] Hornsby" on this album - I finally get it. The uplifting synthesizer keyboard, elevator saxophone and echoey guitar licks are straight out of a Top Gun credit reel - which is essentially what I consider to be perfection in the form of a last track, when paired with Vernon's swelling vocals. Vernon considers this track a huge win, as he should, after scoring the likes of two acclaimed sax players and a pedal steel guitarist to accompany him throughout the album. I don't immediately hear any "Skinny Love" or "Flume" sort of classics, but that doesn't mean its not a stunning album. The flow of each recollective track strikes deep, tugging on heartstrings and doing something even more memorable ... forcing us to listen to each word and find our own Bon Iver-sort of wisdom within us. The best part about him, which feels so real each time I hear his creamy high notes, is that none of it is redundant or predictable - he's got so much more coming that we can't even prepare for.
"Irony is based on insecurity; people like to not like things because they don't understand them." - Justin Vernon

You can stream the first listen of Bon Iver, Bon Iver here - and watch for the hard copy to hit stores next Tuesday, June 21st.

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