There is something almost intoxicating about Bon Iver’s music. I can’t tell if it’s the completely incomprehensible lyrics, or maybe the husky, yet lilting tone of Justin Vernon’s voice. It could even be the sweet soiree of instruments and noise machines that willingly consume the background, but whatever it is, it’s magical.
Many of us have been awaiting Bon Iver’s release of a second album ever since 2007’s release of “For Emma, Forever Ago,” a 10-track album that Vernon created independently in the privacy of his wooden cabin in the middle of an abandoned forest. Bon Iver’s first album gained Justin quite the crowd of admiring fans, to whom he soon released collaborations with Kanye West, and did some leading pieces with a band called Gayngs. But still, fans anxiously waited for another original Bon Iver album to come into play.
The second album, naturally titled “Bon Iver,” has a whole new twist to it. Instead of the classic “man and his guitar” approach used before, Vernon incorporates many other advanced technologies, such as an array of different instruments, sound morphers, and noise machines. Vernon and his band members create music with such depth and difference, that the genre seems to be one that I can’t quite put my finger on. Although iTunes classifies it as “Alternative,” in all truth it really needs to be put into its own “Bon Iver” category. Only a genius can create music the way Vernon does. But, this album is a little less “folky” than the first. Each song comes with a bit of a twist, and the music runs together less, making it easier to listen to with a group of people, instead of wanting to sit alone in a dark room and cry for hours about your heartaches as the last album did for me at certain points.
Before the actual release of the album, on June 21, iTunes made a big mistake and released the album too soon for a few hours in the middle of May, 2011. This boo-boo caused a portion of people to buy and download the album in just enough time, giving them the power to copy it and release it illegally to the rest of the world. Because of this early release, many people started listening and analyzing the album early, which made it not as special for some people when “Bon Iver” was actually released in June.
Vernon continues to keep me perplexed, and so it took vast research and time to figure out most of the meanings of the track titles in such a way. Some of the songs have titles such as “Hinnom, TX,” “Michicant,” and “Wash.” All of which sound like places or cities or states, but aren’t quite. And most of the time, it takes deep analysis and effort to try and uncover the truth and stories behind the song’s lyrics. The album opens with “Perth”, a song written about a friend of Justin’s whose life was slowly coming to an end. He repeats the lyrics, “still alive who you love” which is saying that if you love someone, they are still alive to you, even after they pass. “Perth” is the perfect way to begin the journey; it contains many different drums in the background, a certain harmonic choir, and some interesting guitar-like sounds, and a few horns. These instruments are played mostly by the two other band members, Colin Stetson and Greg Leisz and overall, an excellent song.
My favorite song comes in the middle of the album. “Towers,” wri ten about Vernon drunkenly losing his virginity in a college dorm room. He sings about how love and sex are like a tower you climb up just to come back down. It begins with a guitar strumming, and slowly more and more instruments are incorporated as the song goes on. It gets me every single time. I remember, when I first bought the album, I did the wrong thing and put it on shuffle. “Towers” was the first song to play. Maybe my love for it comes from the fact that it was the first official song that I’d heard on the new album, and so in a certain sense it was the one that “started it all.”
The closing song is called “Beth/ Rest.” In the beginning, it was the one song on the entire album that I didn’t like. It opens with an old key- board, and sounds like something that would have been popular in my parents’ youth. But, that was the goal of this piece. He even incorporated certain instrumental parts of old songs from their far back days. Vernon was very courageous putting this song on the album, let alone ending with it. Even though I didn’t like it in the beginning, I have warmed up to it quite a bit.
To be honest, as embarrassing as this sounds, the album brought me to tears. It’s the kind of music you can put on repeat and listen to until your body feels numb. Vernon, Stetson, and Leisz weave together the main elements of rhythm, beat, voice, depth, and outstanding beauty that you really need to come close to musical genius and perfection. They paint abstract watercolor images in the air with each song. I never get bored. Bon travail, Bon Iver, je t’aime!
Written by Zoe Goldberg. This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue.