REVIEW: Bon Iver – Bon Iver

justin-vernon-2011

Artist: Bon Iver
Album: Bon Iver
Genre: Folk
Label: Jagjaguwar

Bands like The Postal Service and Taking Back Sunday are in a uniquely unfortunate situation, they managed to release such profoundly flawless debut albums. Seriously, Give Up and Tell All Your Friends respectively, are as close to perfection as music can get. Of course, putting out an album that is not only widely accepted by everyone as nothing short of a masterpiece isn’t a bad thing, it would be ridiculous to claim as much. But in the long run, it becomes a bit of a curse, one I like to call “The Thursday Curse.” Thursday have put out some amazing albums over the past decade; War All The Time, their excellent split album with Envy, their newest album, No Devolucion, and so on, but every single album has one fatal flaw – “It’s no Full Collapse (the band’s debut).” It is a shame really, a great band, with tons of longevity, becomes overshadowed by a truly remarkable album, a demon of their own creation. Some bands keep trying and trying, putting out a few stellar releases that, for one reason or another, never live up to the hype of their first album, like Taking Back Sunday, and some, like The Postal Service, quit while they were ahead, and for awhile, I honestly didn’t know which road Bon Iver would end up taking.

So when the time came for Bon Iver’s self-titled, long awaited, follow-up to “For Emma, Forever Ago”, I felt a nervousness I haven’t felt since The Gaslight Anthem announced that they were recording American Slang, I was hugely excited, but braced for an admittedly undeserved disappointment, just in case. For Emma, Forever Ago was an album that was widely accepted as brilliant, from people from all reaches of the music industry, from the indie-folk kids that said it redefined the genre, to Kanye West, everyone loved it. Regardless of how good Bon Iver was to be, “For Emma, Forever Ago” had cast such a sizable shadow, it would be impossible to come out the other side without dodging a few harsh comparisons. Bon Iver could very well have been an excellent album by any standard, but when it has to be the follow up to For Emma, Forever Ago it could very well never surpass the shadow cast by the debut album, it had rather large shoes to fill.

Fortunately, my concerns were quickly extinguished upon my first listen to the album, I knew it was something special, something different from his past work, but very special, and most certainly a product of the genius of Justin Vernon, that much was unmistakable. Of course, like any other project of Vernon’s it takes a couple listens to really “get” the album, it’s not something that the listener can digest in just one listen, but that first taste was enough to know this album wasn’t a disappoint by any means. The major key to this success was the distinct difference between Bon Iver and For Emma, Forever Ago, he didn’t try to recreate his first album, he let himself progress, and created an album that had the same honest emotion that his first album did, a feeling that would have been lost with a mere reenactment of his debut. And of course, the evolution of Bon Iver’s sound was profound enough to make any comparison’s to his first album largely irrelevant, not that it would stop people from making the comparison anyway.

While Bon Iver is much more complex instrumentally, it feels a bit more barren, but in a tastefully minimalistic way, as if each note was thought about, in depth, before being included in the album. This leads to a sound that is a mixture of traditional Bon Iver, with hints of the very eclectic, post-rock, and Volcano Choir. Even after giving the album a few listens though, the standout track has to be the first single off the album, “Calgary”, but not so much because it’s significantly better than the other tracks, it is simply the track most able to stand on it’s own. The rest of the album seems to flow together as a whole, each song lending something to the next, creating one grand product as opposed to a collection of singular pieces.

As much as I love this album, and I do (if I think about it subjectively, standing alone), I unfortunately can’t help drawing comparison’s to For Emma, Forever Ago. As much as I don’t want to, I’m human, and loving a band means knowing when they’re strong and weak. It would be wrong of me to pretend this album existed in a bubble, living without ties to other releases, because it would mean this album was a product of completely originality (and it isn’t). This is a continuation of artist growth and development that challenges listeners to forget the feeling and mood of the previous album with a platter or new thoughts and ideas. Bon Iver certainly deserves the attention and hype it’s receiving, For Emma, Forever Ago be damned.

Score: 8/10
Review written by: Michael Hogan

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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