In the 3 years since the release of Justin Vernon's extraordinarily successful breakthrough 'For Emma, Forever Ago', the man behind Bon Iver has recorded with Kanye West, filed and won a lawsuit against a van company with Gayngs, and recorded the new self-titled effort due to hit record stores June 21st. Suffice to say, Vernon has been a very busy man since that album propelled him to success, with his talents in soft, sad-folk becoming a new standard amongst singer-songwriters.
So with the achievements of that first album, it is only fitting that the follow up begins with what is probably the best opening track you are likely to hear in 2011. Perth could only be described as an ambient swell of the beauty that Vernon has made himself known for. The ever-prominent falsetto is magnificently quilted with harmonies throughout, with instrumental interludes that almost resemble a march. The song grows out of a single fuzzy guitar riff into a euphoric climax of varied instrumentation, including a brass section.
With the bar set high the album continues, bristling with quiet confidence and allure, but one crucial element that this album warrants great credit for is it's production. Although the sound has been somewhat cleaned up since 'For Emma', for the most part, there remains an underlying lo-fi quality throughout, displayed mainly in the guitar riffs and the familiar muffle of Vernon's vocal.
Melodically the album holds onto a lot of the charms of it's predecessor, with a general aura of Elliott Smith surrounding the music. Again the record has an uncanny ability to grasp the listeners emotions and tug at them with soft, sorrow folk-pop melodies. There are also some very strange sounds tonally, such as the odd swells heard throughout Towers.
However the strangest, and most offputting tonal choice that I feel really ended up dragging down this album from it's already outstanding potential, was on final track Beth/Rest. The song could be mistaken as a parodic work, as Bon Iver close out their otherwise folk-focused effort with an auto-tuned 80's style pop ballad with an R&B-esque vocal, which throws everything previous entirely off course. It's definitely an interesting experiment, and musically, I wouldn't say it's terrible. But to include it in this album just seems completely bizarre and it truly does not work in the progression of this collection of songs. Perhaps it's an indicator to a change of style in the future for Bon Iver, what with working alongside artists such as Kanye and (rumoured) Lil Wayne. But if that is the case, this song should have definitely been saved for then.
Out 21/06/2011 Stuart Thornton