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Wisconsin singer-songwriter
expands sound while still
retaining whispered brand
of indie-folk

Bon Iver - Bon Iver
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: September 2, 2011
Bon Iver

Review by Tony Bonyata

Bon Iver's creative fountainhead, Justin Vernon, had some very big shoes to fill after releasing his hushed and beautiful debut For Emma, Forever Ago back in 2008 (an album which gained even more mythical significance as Vernon secluded himself in a cabin in the isolated winter woods of Northern Wisconsin to record it). In the three years since its release that album has been universally hailed as a modern masterpiece and the Eau Claire, WI-based Vernon has been championed as one of the most promising songwriters of his era.

With expectations riding high on Bon Iver's next move, Vernon along with touring bandmates Michael Noyce, Matthew McCaughan, Sean Carey (a Lake Geneva, WI native who released his own impressive debut of ethereal indie-chamber-folk last year on his All We Grow album), and a revolving cast of musicians, have avoided any type of sophomore slump on their self-titled second album. On it, Vernon's intimate and vulnerable falsetto voice still warms the soul like a late-night autumn campfire, but the solitude and whispered beauty of For Emma, Forever Ago has given way to a more richly-produced, full band effort.

A banjo intertwines with saxophones, flutes and pedal steel guitar on the introspective track "Minnesota, WI," while the earthy indie-folk of "Towers" matures into something much more majestic by mid-song with spirited violins and subdued horns. Musically nothing is off-limits here - otherworldly synthesizers create an effervescent backdrop for pianos, strings, brass horns and Vernon's ghostly voice to dance in and out of on the song "Hinnom, TX", while pedal steel, violin and a simple, repetitive piano-line turns the melancholy sonnet of "Wash." into a lush piece of ambient music. A more energetic nature eventually revels itself as it propels the track "Calgary" into greatness. Musically this composition, perhaps, best encapsulates Vernon's strength as a songwriter as it swells into a blissful and moving melody that positively soars two-thirds into the song.

While Vernon & co. have added more layers, textures and musical bells & whistles to this effort, at its core it, thankfully, still retains all of the raw emotion and simplistic nature that made this remarkable indie-act so appealing in the first place.

Related articles:

Bon Iver (Lollapalooza 2009) - Concert review - Chicago, IL - Aug. 2009
Bon Iver - Concert review - Milwaukee, WI - Aug. 2008

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