Bon Iver is the creation of American folk singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, and finally, he has released his sophomore album, which is self titled. This will gain many a sigh of relief from fans as they have been dying to hear new material after Justin’s much collaboration, most notably with Kanye West, in the three year period in-between debut For Emma, Forever Ago and the newly released record.
For Emma, Forever Ago was a fantastic example as how the setup of one man and his acoustic guitar should sound. Songs such as Flume, For Emma and re:stacks have become adored in the music industry because of their vulnerability and how intense they are as pieces of music, it proves that it is a work of art. It shows that a record does not need to be mutilated with effects to capture that “sad” sound and the record proved that simplicity is the key in displaying a lot of sentimental, fragile emotional feelings. It was also the first time the music industry was greeted with Justin Vernon’s phenomenal voice, which played a huge part in the album’s popularity.
Back to Bon Iver, Opening track Perth already introduces the audience to a much bulkier list of instrumentation that features on the album; the use of drums directs the songs in a much straighter path which is an improvement to the unexpected drive of For Emma, Forever Ago. This song just oozes with a lot more balls and force that was missing in a lot of the tracks on the debut album.
What I love is that even with the huge addition of drums, banjo, keyboards amongst many more instruments; Bon Iver still retains a lot of the emotional power that made the previous album so favourable and relatable. Infact, Bon Iver helps paint a much bigger painting of Justin Vernon’s skill as a songwriter, and this album is just full of depth because of it.
Unfortunately Justin’s vocals are not the main focus of the new album, the instrumentation has been concentrated a lot more than the first effort and it shows. The production is fantastic and it allows even the most subtle of sounds to be heard clearly. I think it was a bold move for Bon Iver to let the vocals be not as prioritised because on one hand, it could have driven a lot of fans away from the album as its predecessor relied heavily on them. Yet on the other hand, it would be a chance for the band that support Justin Vernon to show that there is more to Bon Iver than the vocals, and they have succeeded in doing so.
The latter half of the record seems to move towards the experimental genre, which sadly ruins it. A lot of the tracks in the second half do not have the fluidity which made the first half sound so great; I will be continually replaying most of the first half over and over because even as standalone tracks, they bare a lot of impact. However, the second half seems to contain a lot of appearances from instruments for the sake of featuring on the song, for example, Calgary features these crashing drums that frequently stand out from the rest of the music, then this little pattern from a keyboard or synth appears and it just kills the inspirational mood that the drums had created.
Overall, Bon Iver is a solid album that mixes the loved vocals with a more focused instrumentation, and at some points it succeeds in doing this. However, there are moments where the instrumentation becomes a bit too overwhelming, to the point where one or two layers could have been left off of the song because it weakens the overall sentimental image that Bon Iver have tried to achieve. There are songs that I adore, and some that I’m neutral towards, yet while this is a good album, it pales in comparison to For Emma, Forever Ago.