Tag Archives: Bon Iver

Bon Iver ’22, A Million’ – Review

4 Oct

We have always connected Bon Iver (sort of band, sort of solo project of Justin Vernon) to a sense of place. Initially, we associated it with the log cabin in Wisconsin, where a young Justin Vernon decamped after having his heart broken. Those wistful, folky songs sounded like being alone over winter in the middle of a mid west America. His second album featured a landscape painting on the cover and the song titles each referenced a different location. Now, everything about new record ’22, A Million’ dislocates Bon Iver from any sense of a physical place. Any inkling of the picturesque or the pastoral has disappeared, replaced by an abstract feeling of harsh, modern insecurity and instability. It sounds utterly separated, uncertain and adventurous; because of that, it is very 2016.

‘For Emma, Forever ago’ fEly, in many ways, like an album that could have been recorded at any point over the past fifty years. ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ had a slightly more modern aesthetic but it certainly didn’t personify the sound of the 21st century. There is no mistaking that ’22, A Million’ is a contemporary record in every way. In its discordance it sounds like a necessarily modern album. We hear it in the fragmented soundscapes, the array of samples and loops, the distorted, wild beats, the smirking strings and horns, the abstract lyrical thoughts that never build up steam before moving on to the next subject and the disregard for clarity and directness. In a world where we have our eyes constantly scanning and our fingers and thumbs constantly swiping, tapping and pushing, this is music that speaks to our contemporary sensibility.

We have never been more connected yet in many ways we have never felt more alone. It’s one of the great ironies of the social media generation. Vernon seems to thrive off isolation, which makes him the perfect voice for our times. Last year he had his heart broken (again) and took himself abroad to be alone. This involved relocating to a Greek island, off-season, where he was cut off from society and technology. But where isolation and heartbreak evidently manifested themselves in the sound and songs of ‘For Emma’ (man alone with an acoustic guitar singing in a matter of fact tone about having his heart torn apart), this time the disquiet presented itself in more ambiguous ways. His discomfort seems less rooted in a particular, identifiable thing and is more existential and philosophical. The pivotal line of the opening song is “it might be over soon”, and the line serves as a mantra and motivation. This is his most daring album by a long shot. He is questioning and searching for answers to the big questions. It’s musically all over the map and lyrically just as Changeable.

Vernon is still a man unpacking the past; picking apart memories and dreams to dissect universal truths. He doesn’t give you any narratives to hang on to. Only ‘715’ has any sense of a story, and even there it’s vague. He remembers a romantic night by a creek – a memory he worries won’t mean anything one day. It’s a song about struggling to move on from the past, whilst worrying about a time when that past no longer carries the same sentimental importance. It ends with an imperative – ‘turn around now/you’re my A Team’. It’s about as direct as he gets.

Existential fear guides Bon Iver throughout the album, but never as clearly on ‘715’. Elsewhere he recalls ‘Sharing smoke In the stair up off the hot car lot’ – a gripping opening line to one song that is followed by an increasingly slippery series of oblique images and ideas, stacking up to…who knows what exactly. Vernon’s increasingly experimental strain of lyricism is undoubtedly frustrating to some degree – the deliberately provocative grammar and aversion to narrative devices makes it a difficult record to get a grip on. But no matter how obtuse and difficult the music can be, it still carries an emotional power that transcends all obstacles.

‘Re Stacks’, the last track on ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’, offered poetic resolution and a sense of hope. ‘This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization/It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away/Your love will be safe with me.’ Hardly a definitive ‘it’s all going to be ok’ kind of statement by any means, but certainly a lot more concrete than anything we find on ’22, A Million’s’ closer. Instead we are left with the refrain of ‘If it’s harmed, it’s harmed me, it’ll harm, I let it in’. It’s acceptance of a sort – vague on paper but positively an affirmation when delivered by Justin Vernon’s clear cut voice. The song may not be as pretty, as raw or direct as ‘Re Stacks’ but the message is largely the same. The world is changing and there is a lot more noise to cut through. Bon Iver will continue to adapt and evolve but even as he does so, some things remain consistently vital – like the power of melody and the human voice. On the surface ’22, a Million’ is a departure from the sound that catapulted Bon Iver to indie superstardom, but it really isn’t all that different at its core: beautiful, honest and thoroughly ambitious.

8.5/10

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Bon Iver ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ – Review

26 Jul

Sometimes it’s hard to articulate why you like a song or even more simply, what a song is about. Bon Iver’s debut album, ‘For Emma Forever Ago’ charmed everyone who heard it, but you couldn’t really say what it was that made it brilliant, why it connected so widely, or what the guy was even going on about. But what was not in doubt was its beauty – it was obviously a beautiful record. It was equally obvious that Justin Vernon was pouring his heart out, it just wasn’t so obvious what was making him pour his heart out. But certain clues were dropped that told us what we already half-suspected – Justin’s heart had been broken. It was there in the stark arrangements, his whispering falsetto, his painfully unguarded lyrics, the album title etc. Through the fog we felt his pain.

‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’, the sort of self titled follow-up, is somehow even more mysterious than the debut. Here, there isn’t an overriding theme, a single subject, there are many themes and many subjects. Musically as well this is a diverse and scattered record. When the debut album was released, Bob Iver was essentially a pseudonym for Justin Vernon as a solo artist, but now Bon Iver are a proper, fully functioning, and incredibly ambitious band. Justin appeared on Kanye West’s hugely acclaimed and hugely extravagant album ‘My beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ and whilst few would have predicted the rapper’s style would rub off on him, it clearly has; this new album has a similarly wide musical range, and Bon Iver have clearly given every instrument in the box a work out.

This is obvious from the off, with ‘Perth’ a song that is a world away from anything on the debut in many respects, and yet is curiously similar. ‘For Emma…’ was of course recorded by Justin, alone in his wood cabin in the middle of nowhere over a six month period. He recorded most of the instruments himself, and he multi-tracked the vocals which gave the album its unique, ghostly sound. As his 2008 -10 tour progressed Justin seemed to pick up musicians at every city he stopped off at, and now the band consists of about ten different people. ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ features a wide range of performers, and not to mention instruments. Songs often start with Justin and his guitar before building into musical epics with string and horn sections, slide guitars, synths, percussion and all kinds of other sounds. It’s progressive, it’s ambitious, it’s experimental and maximalist but it’s never over the top or indulgent. For all the bluster it’s remarkably subtle, even restrained. The quieter songs (such as ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Wash’) come at exactly the right moments, as do the odd throwbacks to the starkness of ‘For Emma (such as Towers’). There is even the epic finale in the form of a proper 80’s soft rock ballad ‘Beth/Rest’. The song could have been a massive disastor, but it’s executed in a stunning way, and it’s the perfect end to a perfectly structured album.

You couldn’t talk about ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ without mentioning the lyrics, which are (at any given time) impressionistic, poetic, nonsensical, grammatically incorrect, beautiful, vague, deeply revealing and at times utterly frustrating. The songs are built like puzzles that take time to crack, but when the meanings do reveal themselves it gives you a wonderful feeling. Take ‘Holocene’ for example; after many listens it struck me that it was a song about coming of age, about realizing how small and unimportant you are in the grander scheme of things, and each verse tells of a different personal revolution, whilst the chorus is the euphoric declaration ‘At once I knew I was not magnificant…I could see for Miles, miles, miles.’

‘Calgary’ is about the challenges of growing old and keeping a relationship going, whilst ‘Michiant’ and ‘Towers’ are about the innocence, the naivity, the pain and the ultimate let down of young love. Some of the other songs are still puzzling me; ‘Wash’ is a complete mystery, although it’s another emotional weepie with a key line being ‘Claire, I was too sore for sight.’ ‘Minnesota, Wi’ is equally strange/impenetrable (‘armour let it through, borne the arboretic truth you kept posing’) although the key line that gets repeated is ‘Never Gonna Break’ which speaks for itself.

On the cover of the album is a painting of an imaginary landscape (different landscapes crop up a lot on the album, as demonstrated by the song titles which are all place names). The painting is a good metaphor for the album; it depicts a beautiful, green landscape filled by nature as well as signs of nature’s destruction. In the centre of the painting is a single log cabin, representing perhaps the place where Justin recorded his debut album on his own. For whilst ‘Bon Iver, Bon Iver’ is an ambitious, destructive, beautiful album at its heart is Justin Vernon, always alone in the middle, with his guitar and stunning voice. The album is fascinating for all the things that are going on musically and lyrically, but it’s a classic album because of what’s at its heart; Justin Vermon, his guitar and his voice.

9/10

Last Week’s BIG News in Album Art

24 Apr

I was away on holiday last week but that didn’t stop some BIG things going down – like this

Yep, that’s the cover for ‘Suck It and See’ by Arctic Monkeys. I reckon this is a cover people are either going to love or hate, and I’m kind of undecided at the moment. I like the simplicity, especially after the excess of ‘Don’t sit Down Cos I’ve Moved Your Chair’ and it’s video, and I suppose it fits in nicely with the title (which I have finally decided is terrible), as it asks you bluntly to give the album a go, not to judge the book by its cover so to speak. The more I mull it over the more I like it.

Bon Iver has revealed far less divisive album art for his highly anticipated self titled second album. It’s pretty lush…

The tracklisting for said album, as well as an interesting bio, can be found here.

Finally, Lady Gaga has unveiled the artwork for her second album ‘Born This Way’ and it’s pretty strange. The image shows Gaga as some kind of futuristic motorbike. In related news check out this week’s NME for an excellent feature on Lady Gaga written by POPJUSTICE writer Peter Robinson. If like me you have missed the likes of Smash Hits then this feature will make you very happy (check out POPJUSTICE for more funny and intelligent takes on the pop world).

oooooh, whilst I’m here I should say that Washed Out, who released the excellent e.p ‘Life of Leisure’ a year or two ago, has signed to Subpop and will be releasing his debut album this summer. Check out the details here and watch the video for the song ‘Feel It All Around’ below.

TOP 25 ALBUMS of 2008

10 Jun

I’ve been doing top 50 albums and tracks every year since 2004, and have them stored away under lock and key somewhere! I may put them up, I may not – depends on if I can be bothered, doesn’t seem that important. But I think 2008’s is important because it’s still pretty fresh, so with no further babble here is the top 25 (I decided to condense it down) albums and tracks of 2008 as decided by moi.

ALBUMS

1. Day and Age – The Killers

2008 was the year some of 2004’s greatest hopes – Kaiser Chiefs, Keane, Bloc Party, The Zutons and Razorlight – came back with third albums that simply wouldn’t do. None fell flat on their faces (OK maybe Razorlight) but none have lived up to the promise of thier debuts and this showed in both reviews and chart performance. Bands that once had a shot of being the next big stadium group were reduced back to playing small venues, a stark reminder of the way our society love to build a band up only to knock them down.

One band stood out however, by coming out with not only their strongest album yet but one that sold well, was well received, produced a hit single and showed they are perhaps the real stadium band of the future. The group were The Killers and the album was ‘Day and Age’.

Rarely do a band come back with a third album as self assured, confident and versatile as ‘Day and Age’. The Killers were unafraid to try their hand at anything, whether it be the 80’s pop gleam of loosing touch, the overblown ELO-esque grandeur of Spaceman, the calypso tinged ‘I Can’t Stay’ or the melancholy howl of ‘Goodnight, travel well’. Over Ten tracks The Killers produced a spectacular pop album of all killer no filler, it really sounded like it could have easily produced 8 or 9 hits. At the same time it works as a coherent album, they swerve from genre to genre whilst at the same time managing to keep it  recognisably The Killers. It reminds me of Thriller, in the way it borrows from differnt styles and twists them into the shape it wants – and still comes out intact, as a solid 10 track piece of art.

‘Day and Age’ is top of my list because it sounds like a classic album, an album that 2009 will be remembered for, the album The Killers (one of the decade’s most consistent bands) will be remembered for. It’s also the one I keep coming back to.

2. Do You Like Rock Music – British Sea Power

British Sea Power’s third album is as wonderful as could have been hoped. Their debut has revealed itself over time to be perhaps the defining British, Indie debut of the decade and ‘Do you Like Rock Music’ is a magnificent leap forward. Arcade Fire and Godspeed you Black Emperor loom over the album, BSP wear their influences on their sleeve, but this is at the same time an eccentric British record in the grand tradition of Echo and The Bunnymen, Joy Division and David Bowie. Non traditional influences are less easy to spot but clearly there, from the verse of John Betjeman to the drunken hymns of The Wurzels. ‘Do you like Rock Music’ is a fantastic British record, and everyone should own a copy.

3. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend

The perfect summer band, the perfect summer record. I was impressed when I heard the early Vampire Weekend demos and wasn’t let down when the debut album proper landed in early 2008. I seriously haven’t stopped listening to it since, it’s as fresh as the morning I brought it. Spiky and twisted pop music with African influences to set them apart from the crowd. Ultimately the strength is in the songs – ‘Oxford Comma’, ‘A-Punk’ and ‘I Stand Corrected’ for starters.

4. Oracular Spectacular – Mgmt

There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about this great debut album from one of the more eccentric acts of 2008. Wild, eclectic and deranged are three ways of describing ‘Oracular Spectacular’ and whether you hear it on the dancefloor, on the radio or stereo system this album will find a way into your hearts.

5. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

An album of staggering beauty and simplicity, this is a loud hurrah for melody and harmony. The vocals are touching, the playing is rustic and steeped in Americana, folk and pop history. You can smell deep America just from listening too ‘Oliver James’. It’s not haunting as Bon Iver’s record is, but is wonderful in an equally earthy and essential way. Top Marks for a debut of extraordinary promise.

6. The Age Of The Understatement – The Last Shadow Puppets
7. Glasvegas – Glasvegas
8. 21 – Mystery Jets
9. Only By The Night – Kings Of Leon
10. For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver
11. Man In The Mirror – Rhymefest
12. All Hour Cymbals – Yeasayer
13. 808’s and Heartbreaks – Kanye West
14. Volume One – She and Him
15. Fantasy Black Channel – Late of the Pier
16. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
17. Death magnetic – Metallica
18. Perfect Symmetry – Keane
19. That Lucky Old Sun – Brian Wilson
20. Falling off Lavender Bridge – Lightspeed Champion
21. Intimacy – Bloc Party
22. Saturdays = Youth – M83
23. Reality Check – The Teenagers
24. Angles – Dan Le Sac Vs Scrobius Pip
25. Primary Transmission – Broadcaster

TRACKS

1. Time To Pretend – Mgmt
2. Two Doors Down – Mystery Jets
3. A-Punk – Vampire Weekend
4. Paper Planes – M.I.A
5. Kids – MGMT
6. White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes
7. Crimewave – Crystal Castles
8. Geraldine – Glasvegas
9. Death – White lies
10. Sex On Fire – Kings Of Leon
11. Standing Next To Me – Last Shadow Puppets
12. The Bears are coming – Late of the Pier
13. No Lucifer – British Sea Power
14. Its My Own Cheating heart that makes me cry – Glasvegas
15. In This City – Iglu and Hartly
16. Electric Feel – MGMT
17. Ulysees – Franz Ferdinand
18. Ready For the Floor – Hot Chip
19. Spiralling – Keane
20. No Sex For Ben – The Rapture
21. DNVO – Justice
22. Age Of The Understatement – The Last Shadow Puppets
23. How to Dance – Black kids
24. Human – The Killers
25. Always where I need to Be – The Kooks