I’ve been sitting on this album for near on a month now. In fact i purchased it only a week or two after its June 21st release and as it turns out, giving myself time to gel with it was the smart thing to do.
It’s a big album, a vast panorama yet teeming with small details. For me this necessitated a slow listen as I digested it, quite literally one song at a time.
There was definitely a buzz leading up to the release of Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Then in the immediate afterglow pretty much unmitigated praise. If you’re a level-headed (read dull) sort of character, then the louder the clamor the more circumspect you become. A bit like a boxer after the round bell has been rung; you still keep half a guard up just in case a hay-maker comes out of nowhere. Considered opinions and thoughtful critiques are not attributes the music press is known for. If you add to that mix, ‘fandom’ and the lorry loads of amateur music blogs (*cough, cough*) that are out there running adjectives into each other like dodgem cars at a County Fair, you have a micro climate ripe for hyperbole. And Hyperbole there has been but thankfully every purple hued syllable of extravagant praise has been well warranted.
Justin Vernon’s second album is simply superb!
So whats it like?
Well years ago we visited the Dali Museum in St Petersburg (Not that one unfortunately, the one in St Petersburg, Florida).
One of the anchors of their collection was a colossal painting by Salvador Dali called
The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus
It’s a massive piece of work. Not just in terms of what is on the canvas but the sheer physicality of it. I mean it’s 14 feet high to start with and just dwarfs the space it is in. When we saw it was hung alone, in a well proportioned room with lots of breathing space around it. But still, still it hits you like a rabbit punch to the solar plexus, emptying your lungs of air. Your mind scrambles. Flitting across the surface, taking in details. While at the same time you crane your head upwards trying to drink in the whole picture. And while all those impressions are forming and joining and splitting and forging new links, another part of you is very still and quiet, silenced by the sheer beauty of it all. And that kind of visceral response is what makes this record so special. Like Salvador’s painting, it’s demands are immediate and multiple and asked across different levels. For me that is almost a litmus test of great Art, that it can put you in two places at once. Does that make sense?
One of the many, early impressions I had with this album was the similarities between what Justin Vernon was doing with his voice; processing it like any other instrument in the mix. And what James Blake was doing all the way back at week 10. Now you wouldn’t believe it but they’ve recently collaborated together on a song, Fall Creek Boys Choir which you can find after the jump.
I get a small kick of pleasure when a serendipitous moment like that occurs. It makes me feel like I’m on the right track after all.
Lately I’ve been thinking that I really shouldn’t be a first port of call for musical opinion. A source for pirated albums? Yes, I’m your man but first and foremost I’m a fan. If I like a record, then I love it! I gush at the mouth, I run on with the $10 dollar words as Hemingway disparagingly puts it. I don’t know enough about how music is made, to understand why it sounds so beautiful and have trouble editing myself when I really should. Guys like Anthony Fantano (wrong though he is in this instance) are a much better resource … but that has never been what this Journal is about. Having said all that, I can see myself revisiting this post several times to update it as more of the album reveals itself.
For me, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is a rare creature of living beauty and changing temperament. I’m sure I’m not alone in this view but every time I play it I hear something new. The soft fall of rain that introduces Holocene. The rat-a tat-tat of the Marching Snare Drums on Perth. In that same song, the clatter of overloaded speakers as they reverberate in their enclosures. The quirky ticks and pops that punctuate Lisbon, OH putting me in mind of the Bowie/Eno collaboration, Moss Garden. Or Justin’s peculiar falsetto that is ethereal yet also substantial, full of languid warmth; not brittle or confining like you would expect. There are a million details that float in and out of view like a moveable feast, depending on where I am or my frame of mind. I kind of think the emotive reference point that I bring to ‘The Listen’ becomes part of the ‘The Play’, helping shape what Bon Iver ‘plays’ as it comes streaming down the mountainside.
The Music Video for Holocene was shot in Iceland and is just magical. Watch for the last few frames; the way the Columnar rock formations push up as if under the command of the young boys upraised arms … and of course there are birds in it too : -) If you tire of the official Video then here is an alternative which more than holds its own.
I hope you like everything you hear.
I hope all who hear, like it.