No, I’m not messing with you, with that title. That is the artist name, and then the album titled the artist’s name. Twice. I know.
Here’s another disc I rescued from the death throes of our shite little HMV. It was in the 2-for deal, and I’d heard the name (I remember people raving) and I thought, well, why the hell not. I don’t really know from Bon Iver, so this was as good a time as any to find out.
Turns out there’s a record before this (For Emma, Forever Ago), and one after it (22, A Million). I tried to find the previous one, for perspective (reportedly this second effort is a departure), but my HMV didn’t have it. James looked for me in his store too, but no luck (thanks for looking, dude!).
I also read online that the name Bon Iver is pronounced the same as the french for good winter, bon hiver, and purposely mispelled. Because… why not?
A lot of the songs titles here are place names, because, as Justin Vernon said, “…and every song I ended up making after that [Perth] just sort of drifted towards that theme, tying themselves to places and trying to explain what places are and what places aren’t.”
Perth starts us off with a twisted little bit and then becomes a big crashing instrumental thing which is oddly satisfying. There are lots of interesting bits to it, I liked it. We move seamlessly into Minnesota, WI, which has a funky intro before becoming synth-backed vocal sections. Picked strings (a banjo, or maybe mandolin?) come in, and then 80s-style synth bass throbs while he sings normal and falsetto… Fascinating.
Holocene was a single (and was Grammy-nominated!), and it starts with a real pretty acoustic guitar bit. It floats along prettily, with more falsetto vocals. As it grows it just becomes more of itself without developing an edge. Holocene is an epoch of history, but it’s also a bar in Portland, OR. Justin Vernon said of it: “It’s a good example of how all the songs are all meant to come together as this idea that places are times and people are places and times are… people? They can all be different and the same at the same time. Most of our lives feel like these epochs. That’s kind of what that song’s about. “Once I knew I was not magnificent.” Our lives feel like these epochs, but really we are dust in the wind. But I think there’s a significance in that insignificance that I was trying to look at in that song.””
Towers (another single) carries on the falsetto vocals, this time over strummy electric guitar. It becomes a country swinger, a cool track that carries on this unique sound. Michicant is next, a plodding indie jangle that has beauty in its make-up. The skittery instrumental outro was my favourite part. Hinnom, TX lets echoes rule the track as it offers little jabs of vocals and bass. Weirdly hypnotic, this one held my attention because I kept waiting for something else to happen but it never did, and that ended up being alright by me.
Wash. has a soft piano intro with gentle high vocals over it, strings build in behind and it becauses one of the most starkly beautiful tracks on the disc. By the time the drums jitter their way in, I was already hooked. Calgary (another single) drifts along on synths and more of those same vocals, gentle and caressing and somehow precious. When the drums and spacey synths join in it’s almost a Peter Gabriel track done Bon Iver-style. The instrumental break is fun as it fuzzes out and the vocals finally get some backbone. The track is bookended by strummed acoustic and vocals from the beginning.
Lisbon, OH is short, just a held synth note with blipping and bleeping. It grows as it changes notes, but it’s an electronic soundscape. An interlude track. Maybe a song idea that wasn’t complete enough to become a full song. And finally it’s Beth/Rest (another single), which starts off sounding like some sort of Phil Collins/Howard Jones/Peter Gabriel hybrid synth tune. What a throwback. Not due to this, but because of the strength of the tune, I’d say this was one of my favourite tracks here. The guitar solo is great, with pedal steel in the background mingling with that sax… Lovely.
I went into this blind, and came away impressed. Deceptively simple tunes throughout, this record contains a lot of layers, little bits of creativity and nuance that I’ve surely missed on this run-through. I’m certain further plays will reveal more. I recommend this album for late at night, the lights low, the good headphones on, and nowhere to be but right where you are.