Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (J)

So I’m back in an indie folk rut again, and the best way to summarize my current taste (other than Mount Eerie) is definitely Bon Iver. Yes, sad bearded-man folk music, but a lot more.
Justin Vernon recorded this album alone in a cabin in Northwestern Wisconsin (notice a trend here?) after an extreme breakup and a liver problem. While sitting alone in his cabin, Vernon watched a documentary concerning the Inuit. These people had a tradition of wishing each other a “bon hiver,” or “good winter” in French. Of course, “hiver” reminded Vernon too much of “liver,” which was causing him a good deal of pain, so he removed the H, making the name Bon Iver, which stuck.

Bon Iver is characterized by simple “strummy” folk guitar, occasionally masking a light glitch bass drum track, giving it a more upbeat sound, and, of course, Justin Vernon’s strong R&B-style falsetto vocals. No, not power metal falsettos; I’m talking big black guy-sounding falsettos. Of course, this one track of vocals doesn’t cut it; there needs to be over twenty tracks of Justin Vernon singing various harmonies, countermelodies, and bass tracks. Think of it as a choir of Justin Vernons; a big room of beardy-folk fellows that isn’t a coffee shop or record store (har dee har).

I had the opportunity to miss Bon Iver in concert (with The Tallest Man On Earth, a previously reviewed band), but from bootlegs and videos of live shows, Justin Vernon is accompanied by a live drummer and electric guitarist (does a lot of folk/post-rock/noise stuff O_o), but normally Vernon stands alone vocally, with occasional harmonies from everyone else. This more bleak sound is very pleasing, but a huge diversion from the more lush sound found on the album. Either way, it looks like Justin Vernon aims to please.

An interesting tidbit about Bon Iver live: Justin Vernon doesn’t want to be a one-guy-singing-with-a-guitar artist, so he has been known to hand out lyrics to the audience so they can sing along.

Overall, I like this album. A lot. It’s definitely up there with Mount Eerie’s “Lost Wisdom” for best album of the year, even though it was officially (self-) released last year.

Recommended for fans of: Low, Mount Eerie, Julie Doiron, Chuck Ragan, Neil Young, Steve von Till, and so on.

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