Bon Iver – ‘Bon Iver’

“Oh you know that one guy who went and locked himself in a cabin in the woods and recorded an album?” For a few months For Emma, Forever Ago was the most talked about album for a long time and it’s been a few years since Justin Vernon has emerged from the hype cloud he resides in and given us all the long-awaited follow up we’ve all been salivating over for so long. Although he’s given us occasional morsels, mostly under different monikers or single tracks, we’ve been practically malnourished in terms of a weighty release. That is until now.

It’s evident from the first trill of guitar that the same elements in Justin’s recipe book are being used. His soulful, withdrawn and heartbreaking voice still make it feel as though he’s leaving his diary open and it’s his inner-most thoughts he’s allowing the world to catch a glimpse of. The same tone remains; a quite hum that’s both soothing and melancholy and builds to a whispered crash in it’s apex. But there’s something older now. Something more worldly.
Whereas his first album sounded agoraphobic and immensely sparse you can tell that Justin has welcomed more elements into his world. Even as simply as adding new instruments to the mix he has made each song sound like an open field, as opposed to self-inflicted solitude. This is most evident in the albums stand out track ‘Holocene’. He sings of clarity and sums up what seems to be his feelings of the last few years, humbly musing “I was not magnificent” but offering that he can “see for miles, miles, miles”.
Although it’s clear that there’s a broader approach to musicianship here, some tracks sounding more like a lo-fi soul release than the folk driven treasures that are expected, it is still the simplest arrangements that are the most appealing. ‘Wash’. is a devastatingly quiet ode to progress, with Justin versing “Climb is all we know, when thaw is not below us” perhaps acknowledging his new found infamy and coming to grips with what he needs to do to progress from this point.
Producing a follow up to For Emma cannot have been an easy feat and it’s heart warming to see that the challenge was not met with lethargy. It’s taken some time but it’s evident in the product that Justin Vernon was not in the least bit daunted by the task set and has given us another release that we can sift our way through until the next comes along, hopefully this time it won’t be as long a wait.
– Jonty Thompson