The story behind Bon Iver’s first album, For Emma, Forever Ago was relatively famous. Justin Vernon withdrew into a cabin in the Wisconsin woods and recorded a sparse, isolated acoustic record. His second album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver (the actual title), is an artistic reaction to that.
The album cover is a great representation. A house sits there in the center, but instead of it alone, the view expands, revealing the world around it. The titles (and the title) of Bon Iver, Bon Iver are all meant to refer to places, albeit sometimes unreal ones (“Perth,” “Minnesota, WI,” “Michicant,” “Wash.,” “Calgary,” etc.). There’s more to the Bon Iver world now than just a lonesome cabin.
And musically, too, not just thematically. Bon Iver, Bon Iver feels more worldly and full, while maintaining Bon Iver’s trademark shimmer: seductive melodies, abstract lyrics, falsettos. “Perth” is a surprisingly complex recording, using a military drumbeat and guitars to bury all sorts of sounds that just barely leak out.
“Perth” leads into “Minnesota, WI” and “Holocene” and by now it’s clear–this is a gorgeous album. These songs have a patient flow to them, as they take their time and go through different sections and back and forth. There is very little intensity on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, as they leisurely flow where they are headed. “Holocene” for example does not build anywhere, it strolls. “Jagged vacance thick with ice / And I can see for miles miles miles,” Vernon sings, and as is his genius, I have no idea what “jagged vacance” means, but it FITS. This is not unusual in his lyrics. He has that ability to string words together that may not mean anything technically, but overall, they do/must. As he sings on “Wash.” “we’re sewing up through the latchet greens / I unpeel keenness, honey, bean for bean / Same white pillar tone as with the bone street / Sand is thrown.”
The album closes with “Beth/Rest,” which also clearly indicates that Bon Iver is making some of the bravest music around. He fully embraces a normally-maligned ’80s soft rock sound, and somehow turns it into a moody reflection closing this masterpiece of an album.
I first saw Bon Iver live a few years back when he was just becoming more known after his debut record, and I thought, “with his voice, guitar-playing, songwriting, this guy should be a superstar!” Bon Iver, Bon Iver does nothing to change that; if you like your music beautiful and rich and with feeling, nobody does it better than Justin Vernon.almostaghost