Iver offers up loneliness, nice sounds

By Gus Bode

The best thing about Bon Iver’s new self-titled album is the cover art, but the music’s worth a listen too.

The sleeve’s intricate, somber and lonely painting is actually quite a good analogue to the music itself — wintry, oh-so-earnest indie folk.

Bon Iver, led by singer-songwriter Justin Vernon, hit the music scene with 2008’s “For Emma, Forever Ago.” The big question was whether their second album would disappoint after their much-buzzed debut.

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Well, it may not be a classic, but it definitely doesn’t fall on its face.

“Bon Iver” is all about the sounds. Vernon isn’t always the most compelling songwriter (strip any of these songs down to their essentials, and you wouldn’t end up with “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” or “Blowin’ in the Wind”), but he’s quite good at dressing his songs up in some very appealing musical clothes.

The album opens with “Perth,” which begins with a downbeat guitar riff and builds up with martial drums, horns and strings. It’s a good example of what most of the album sounds like: layered, non-traditional arrangements that build in intensity.

“Towers” is one of the simpler tracks on the album and also the one easiest to latch on to. With its straightforward melody and finger-picked guitar, it’s more of a stand-alone than a mood-setter.

The album’s second half shifts gears away from layered folk to a much more heavily produced sound.

“Hinnon, TX” sets the tone with a tremolo piano riff, occasional booms of subwoofer-friendly bass and high, layered backing vocals. If it ever really took off, it would sound like one of Yeasayer’s danceable reworkings of ‘80s pop. Instead, it maintains the fairly languid pace of the rest of the album.

Album closer “Beth/Rest” is a highlight due in no small part to its incongruity. With its synths, charismatically cheesy guitar fills and wailing saxophones, it calls Phil Collins to mind, of all people. It seems everybody is mining the ‘80s these days, but I don’t know of anyone who’s gone this direction yet. It’s a great way to cap off the album.

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“Bon Iver” doesn’t feel like an album people will talk about decades from now. Nevertheless, it’s a memorable bit of mood music in an independent scene filled with artists who seem satisfied to do no more than create a vibe.

 

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