The theme of finding solitude alone in the woods seems to haunt me throughout my college career. First, it was my First Year Reading Initiative book selection, Walden. After reading about the ant battle, I was no longer invested in finishing the book. However, this time I am warmly welcoming the artistic creation that has risen from solitude among the trees. Bon Iver’s newest album, Bon Iver, is even better than the 2007 album For Emma with its sophisticated musicality, warm intimacy and peaceful flow.
There is something alluring about being in a small cabin separated from the rest of the hectic world, as I am sure Justin Vernon agrees. This personal reflection is perfectly set to music. Bon Iver keeps with their earthy folk sound but adds a rustic experimental twist. Vernon recruited a unique team of players, including string arranger Rob Moose (Antony and the Johnsons, the National, Arcade Fire) and a horn/woodwind section, to layer in an interesting texture of treated and electronic sounds. Each sound created, including silence, is deliberately placed.
His voice is natural, with harmonies that sound in need of solace rather than being angelic. Different than the last album, Vernon uses more of his lower register rather than staying entirely in his falsetto. At first, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this change, since that unique and unforgettable upper register had always defined his sound prior to this album. However, my opinion has changed, and I loved the blend on Bon Iver.
Vernon’s lyrics are like toned poems alluding to a state of mind that mixes clarity and surrealism with a rich musical arrangement both commonsensical and surprising. This is even shown in his song titles, mixing real places (Calgary) with those made up (“Hinnom, TX”, “Michicant”). The album’s focus is on escape and the personal struggle of evading one’s own mind. Many of the lyrics deal with intoxication as one form of personal escape. A similarity to the book Walden, Vernon’s lyrics also focus on taking in his surroundings, sorting through his memories and figuring out what can be learned.
Though the album is difficult to interpret, its complexity is what gives its richness and depth. Bon Iver makes beautiful music in a new way that is sure to quench the thirst of all of their/his? loyal followers.