Bon Iver

Bon Iver’s first release ensured 2008 began its life amongst a blustery snow storm. “For Emma, Forever Ago” was conceived and created during a three month hibernation which saw Justin Vernon use the mountainous surroundings of Wisconsin as a playground for his musical imagination. An album soaked so thoroughly in heart-break and regret found itself garnering impressive acclaim from an international audience. Praise fell upon the complexity of its sounds and emotions, and the ease in which Vernon conveyed them. He had painted a landscape real enough to live within, explaining his heartache to us in a hundred different ways.

Bon Iver’s attempt at making this album a limitless symphony of un-conventional sound, has lead it instead to a very beige and very damp cave.

Pleasure is sat side by side with pain throughout. Beautiful and emotive guitars and string arrangements on Towers and Holocene, offer a nostalgic flashback for anyone who enjoyed his first effort. Shining individual moments like these have been smuggled in amongst an album which suffers from seemingly poor mixing and production.

I can see fans of Bon Iver clinging mercifully to every horn blast and guitar note, weeping uncontrollably into their hands. Despite this though, I found his falsetto voice and constant barrage of directionless music un-satisfying to listen to. It often trampled over parts which were actually very good. Perth’s crisp guitar melody and marching band drums lead you towards an expected mountain, with horns sounding like an un-intentional celebration for the return of Justin Vernon. From here on in however, greatness is restricted to secluded spots (aside from Towers and Holocene, which provide the two highlights of the album).

The beautiful vocal melody on Michicant is slowed and hindered at times by unnecessary sounds and poor mixing, the same way as the pretty, dancing pianos in Wash are violated with un-enjoyable, obscure instrumentation. It’s a constant build up and let down, with inspiring moments painted over by less interesting noises and distractions. The best songs on this album are the ones which use its mixing and production to compliment the sounds within.

The album rarely offended my ears. Instead it sat uncomfortably between disappointment and mediocrity. The last song however, stumbled across a cheap sounding Casio piano while indistinguishable vocals hummed awkwardly in the background. It immediately reminded me of a 1980s T.V advert for some obscure, German aftershave company.

It remains to be seen whether the hype train will de-rail and kill millions of people’s expectations or whether he will set benchmarks in acoustic music for years to come. After such a popular and stand out debut album, I think Bon Iver, Bon Iver deflates and slows his momentum. Nonetheless, respect must be given to a man who clearly stands above the majority of other “Singer Songwriters” at being able to construct a wintry oil painting and place you deep within it (most of the time). Despite its flaws, this piece of music will grow in popularity and gain him an even bigger fan base, securing him a place at the top of his genre. I hope for his fans sake that this snowball doesn’t career off the very same mountain he created.