Let’s get it out of the way, apart from Justin Vernon’s trademark falsetto, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is nothing like For Emma, Forever Ago. And in my opinion it didn’t need to be. Justin Vernon’s pining and isolation resulted in a full and complete album. He put it all on the table and left little room for a Part 2.
So much of what I love about that album is the story of its creation; the months of isolation in the woods writing songs about lost love and heartbreak, never expecting anyone to hear them. We did, of course, hear them and we fell in love with them. He captured lightening in a bottle. For Emma was absolutely perfect for the collectively heartbroken world in 2008, but now it’s time to move on.
Over the past 3 years, Vernon has given us hints about the direction he would take with this album. The Blood Bank EP eased us into a bolder sounding Bon Iver and the title track easily became my favorite song of 2009.
Where For Emma is stark and minimal, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is intricate and lavish. Vernon mixes synthesizers with pedal guitars and creates sounds that Vernon himself described as “Civil War-sounding heavy metal.” It’s odd for sure, but then Vernon has never been an easy read. I remember reading once that Vernon often has no idea what his songs are about; it’s as if the words just come through him and he is little more than a scribe. Way to rub it in, Vernon. We get it, you are a genius.
Much like For Emma, this album is full of challenging and breathtaking lyrics. It reads much more like poetry than music, and much like poetry, I think the meaning is meant to be personal. The listener is supposed to take ownership.
I’ve had the album for couple of days now, and I can say without any hesitancy that I like it. My favorites so far are “Perth,” “Minnesota, WI” and “Calgary.” I anticipate, much like my experience with For Emma, that my favorites will change pretty regularly though. I am sad to say that “Beth/Rest” is currently my least favorite song on the album, despite multiple attempts to LOVE it. Maybe that will change when I hear it live.
This album is all about journeys and destinations. Many of the song titles are places, both real and imaginary, and even the album’s title is a destination. Destination doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end though. I like to think Bon Iver, Bon Iver is just a stopping point on this band’s journey and that we’ve got many more gorgeous miles ahead of us.