Album Review: Bon Iver

[First published in Cliché Magazine on 7.3.2011]

Listening to Bon Iver’s Bon Iver is an activity comparable to lying in the grass of a vast garden replete with brightly colored flowers. Patches of crimson, and marigold, and periwinkle, and violet, and peach on grassy beds, verdant and luscious with dew. On a gently sunny day, with a cloud or two drifting by, and you are alone to observe this. Time passes, stealthily, as do states of consciousness.Icicles have melted. The dead of winter has been replaced by the life of Spring. It is something of a rebirth from the despair of Justin Vernon’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, which was written in a secluded Wisconsin cabin surrounded by nothing more than snow. Gone are the hermitic strums of a lone guitar: he has dealt with the sorrow, and he’s added a few more people in the architecture of his sound. This is Justin Vernon, expanded and plugged in.

The album is upbeat compared to his last, but it’s the same softly expressive falsetto. It’s impassioned, and you can hear the great depths of his soul that shine through like an inner light emanating through his formerly moribund heart.

The lyrics, arrangements, and harmonies are characteristically impressionistic. Contrasted against the backdrop of a military snare in “Perth,” it is unexpected and refreshing, painting a misty battle scene from a Civil War movie. He can “see for miles, miles, miles,” in “Holocene,” and you see it too, the vast expanse of a wintery Monet vision. The last song, “Beth / Rest” is the most surprising from Vernon, a ‘80s-inspired piece that embraces every maudlin minute of its length.

Bon Iver is another breathtaking album from Vernon. But it’s not the sort of album you can listen to too closely. It is meant to be broad and complex – and you are not meant to understand it.

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