Album Review: Bon Iver’s ‘Bon Iver’
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Could it be that a bearded backwoods falsetto-singing man named Justin Vernon is the great unifier of this early decade? The Wisconsin-born songwriter’s slow-burning debut, “For Emma, Forever Ago,” gradually, over the course of two years, drew the passionate ears of indie rockers and quiet-storm R&B lovers alike, and got a big co-sign from Kanye West, who sampled Vernon’s song “The Woods’ and asked him to collaborate on West’s most recent album. On Vernon’s second full-length as Bon Iver, he revisits the quiet desolation of his debut, but adds a vast new sound palette, including a minor-key horn section, a host of strings, pedal steel, banjo and just a touch more bombast to augment the piano, guitars and drums, to augment it.
But not much. Vernon is a quiet sort, and makes music for a gentle night of lovemaking on a bear rug in front of the fireplace, or for a tear-filled late-night cruise down a lonely rural route. At times his music bumps against cheesiness; a few songs sound like outtakes from the ’70s soft rock band Chicago, Vernon’s layered falsetto can feel overly precious, and one particular guitar solo, near the end of “Beth/Rest,” sounds ripped from a Christopher Cross song. These, though, are minor quibbles; Vernon on “Bon Iver” solidifies his place not as innovator, but as someone who’s found a nice, fertile plot of land somewhere near where folk, rock, R&B and indie rock intersect, and is happy to wander across its great expanse honoring all of it.
Three stars (Out of four)
— Randall Roberts