Review: New Bon Iver

It’s the album that many have been waiting for. Transcendent vocals and dreamlike harmonies have always been responsible for putting Justin Vernon and Bon Iver on the map, and now they release their sophomore album Bon Iver. Bon Iver’s previous release, the folk driven Emma, Forever Ago, became an instant favorite and established a quick and solid fan base for Vernon, who even lent his vocals on several tracks and co-wrote with Kanye West on West’s recent saga My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This time around, Bon Iver’s new release still carries the serene folk sounds that haunted Emma, Forever Ago, but are backed with arrangements that seem to shoot this album into another realm.

The opening track “Perth” features a wall of sound that includes Vernon’s signature falsetto vocals, joined by guitar and battle-hymn ready snare drums and horns. It’s quite a way to open an album, and Bon Iver doesn’t fail to give the track all they’ve got. Beginning and ending with the same serene electric guitar strumming, the track doesn’t meet a final stop, but instead continues on to the next track “Minnesota, WI”. We’re greeted again with hard-driving drums before the album’s ever-present use of synthesizers appear once more. “Minnesota, WI” is as defiant as the opening track with the blaring horns and sailing harmonies, taking the time to weave in and out of the dramatic arrangement before only featuring Vernon’s vocals accompanied by quick-fingered guitar. This time, the track does find its end to a vivid album opening.

The arrangements make their presence known track after track, some beginning in simplicity before taking off another direction, others beginning with dynamic volume. “Holocene” and “Towers” are serene tracks that beautifully display yet again the solid relationship Vernon’s vocals have with the steady rolling of the backing drums and strings, and pulling it together again with the use of synths. The dreamy serenade “Michicant” takes a meditative and dreamlike look back to memories from long ago, while the ballad “Hinnom, Tx” also continues the dreamlike patterns with its dominant use of pop-inspired synths. The lead single off the track gave fans their first taste of what the new album had in store for everyone back when it was released, and now together with the other works of art, “Calgary” fits in just perfectly. The end of Bon Iver’s journey comes with the synth-heavy ballad “Beth/Rest” that sounds as though it’s coming straight out of the 80’s, and is closely reminiscent of Prince’s single Purple Rain in the way the guitar, heavy use of synthesizers and keys unite together with Vernon’s voice.

What makes this album work is that together the backing band grows and shifts into each track, and melts cohesively with Vernon’s ethereal harmonies. Not quite pop music, although the pop-like synths make their appearances, but not traveling too far from its folk roots, Bon Iver is an album that tries to find itself with each track that passes. Both new and old Bon Iver fans will enjoy Vernon’s efforts, and will have everyone eager for their next project. From a collaboration with Mr. West to an album of solid and amazing work, Justin Vernon has really put together something magnificent, and has done it quite beautifully.

Check out the video for the single off Bon Iver, “Calgary”, below!

Stephanie Gomez- Roxy Contributor