Justin Vernon has left his cabin and is setting out on the road leading to someplace bigger, away from isolation that desperately clings on him.
Facing a daunting challenge to follow up an album that was deemed one of the greatest independent albums of all time will certainly have to play with everyone’s expectations. Many moves could have been taken: a follow up in the same style, a complete retirement from future releases in order to supply more importance to For Emma, Forever Ago (Bon Iver’s first release) or a complete change in musical style and direction. Vernon chooses the latter as he continues to hone in on his exuberant and blissfully intimate inspiration that gives this van Gogh of a musician his soul.
There is a world that Justin Vernon lives in, a world found in the corners of many of our own heads, but this is where Vernon lives. It’s consumed in weather, horrifying yet beautiful and you’re alone. This is the quickest summary of Bon Iver’s work. He lets the world dance on his shoulders and then he closes his eyes. He breathes. He opens his eyes and he sings.
The biggest aspect of Bon Iver’s music that distinguished itself was its daunting minimalism. The minimalist approach to the compositions, lyricism, and productions gave them a gratifying weight too heavy to shake off. With this sophomore release, Vernon continues to reveal himself within his work but he’s a different man now. He’s off to achieve a bigger sound and sounder life.
This is a prominent fault seen in many artists that successfully achieve something through a minimal sound and then immediately trying to take off for something bigger and better. After For Emma released, an EP was released featuring B-sides from that album; the tracks were much more experimental, auto-tune was being treated as an instrument and the tracks broke the atmosphere set in For Emma, all revealing Vernon’s flaws as a producer. With this new album, those flaws come out more and weigh the album down as Vernon uses an unusually vast number of instruments to broaden the horizon his music lives for. You certainly feel the inspiration, but many of the tracks come at fault due to poor execution. The guitar is now a haunting, faded electric that comes off more irritating than atmospheric due to the lack of thought that went in the compositions. The usage of a variety of instruments ranging from saxophones to synthesizers come off as horribly forced, only focused on the agenda to create a larger atmosphere while neglecting complimenting the song properly. One of the memorable tracks, Michicant, is a rare case that actually succeeds with this approach that feels like an improvement on what For Emma was all about. Many other tracks including Perth, Hinnom, TX, and the infamous Beth/Rest come off as heavily distasteful in the process.
Conclusively, Bon Iver (the album) results as a mismatch of tracks that range from blissful to annoying. Vernon, as a poet, as an artist, as a human being, remains pitch perfect and gives the strong core the album functions on; only sonically does the album devolve on.
This album wasn’t my dad, but a kind-hearted and mysterious lumberjack who looked after me when no one else cared.