Let me start by stating that I am a Bon Iver fan, and generally a fan of everything Justin Vernon touches (see Shouting Matches and Volcano Choir specifically). I follow that up by saying that at first glance with this album, my initial response was “what the f&%* man?!”. Then, over time, my disappointment grew that I could not be excited by a new Bon Iver album, which forced me back to it again and again, thinking, there has to be something here… Justin is too talented. My initial thought was that it was self indulgent and over produced, losing so much of the fragility that created the brilliance of Bon Iver’s first two albums. How wrong I was. I have found equal beauty and brilliance in this album and can’t get enough of it now. The layers add a depth that creates a new aura, a seeking for his fragile vocals, breaking with commitment and emotion, which is found when looking for it. In the layering and filtered effect laden vocals, you still find his raw broken soul filled voice peeking out from under it all, surfacing in its brilliance at moments. I’m not sure how he does it, other than there is a genius within him that allows him to transcend boring repeated effort, for something uniquely new, yet somehow the same. It is truly brilliant. Listen to “715 – CREEKS”. Truly listen and try to say that what you know and love about Bon Iver is not present on this track. The raw and committed delivery, complex in its simplicity. Every track on this album offers something new and exciting, a common thread to all but none close to the same, and what more can we ask for in an album. In the day of hit singles and a single track audience, thank you to Bon Iver for committing to put forth an album that can be enjoyed over and over again, from start to finish. Hearing something new with every listen, it amazes.
If it seemed that I could not possibly learn to love this album more, I then watched Bon Iver’s recorded performance at Pioneer Works Warehouse in Brooklyn courtesy of NPR (https://youtu.be/iYBscCorbJs) available on YouTube. To translate a record with this sound into a brilliant live performance would not have seemed possible. It plays like a record that was born from many computers, rather than many people in a room together, but the magic is revealed in watching this live performance. S. Carey’s layered harmonies are revealed in the performance. Justin’s unassuming persona and personality despite his brilliance is striking… looking like a crowd dweller having taken the stage to play musician and then delivering a captivating performance. It is a much watch.
The only opportunity that I have had to see Justin Vernon, was a few years back at the Austin City Limit’s Music Festival as he was there as part of the Shouting Matches. It was an unassuming show on one of the smaller side stages, and it seemed like I had wandered into an amazing secret. It was as if people generally did not realize that Justin was part of this band, as they played to a small crowd my brother and I were able to walk right up to the stage and absorb the total commitment that Justin brings to his work. It was a live set that I will never forget. I can only hope to find the chance to see him many times more in the years to come, it is something special.
I urge you to take some time with this new album. Please don’t simply dismiss it quickly due to the production and feeling that it was a wrong turn for Bon Iver. Listen all the way through. Do it again. I guarantee it will reaffirm your love for Bon Iver if you have loved their past work and should it be your first exposure to them, will send you seeking their past works. Thank you Bon Iver for another impeccable effort and for sharing your art with us. My apologies for thinking you had screwed it all up… how wrong I was.