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Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Bon Iver Bon Iver
Released 17 June 2011
Producer Justin Vernon
Label 4AD
Length 39:25
Genre Folk rock, indie
Website boniver.org
45

Congratulations, Justin Vernon, you’ve created a new genre. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you.... Power-Folk. Like ordinary folk, but turned up to eleven. Big hair and spandex optional. If you loved Bon Iver’s acclaimed debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, if you swooned at its understated beauty, if you were touched by its desolation, haunted by its otherworldliness, stop reading now. Go bury your head in the sand until things die down. Until the madness is over. Because the new album is nuts.

If you don’t believe me, and need to find out for yourself, go straight to the last track on the album, track ten, 'Beth/Rest'. Listen to it, in all its glory, and then check the album sleeve, just to make sure you haven’t accidentally bought an REO Speedwagon album. Check the date on today’s newspaper, just to make sure it isn’t 1985. While you’re at it, make sure you’re not suddenly in a John Hughes movie. 'Beth/Rest' is an astonishing song, but not a good way. It is probably the most authentic power ballad I’ve heard in at least fifteen, if not twenty years. It has it all. The processed electric piano. The soaring vocals. The trashy synths. The reverb heavy drums. The masturbatory guitar. It even has saxophone, for God’s sake! And vocoder!! Now, I am as partial to a spot of ‘80s revivalism as the next person, but generally it has a kitschy, knowing feel to it, or if not, it’s done by a group who really believe in what they’re doing and can pull it off in all its earnestness because somehow, it just kind of suits them. It’s what they do. Now, Bon Iver doesn’t do eighties power pop. He doesn’t do post-ironic chic. At least that’s what we thought. Hence the most jarring, unintentionally hilarious change of musical direction by an artist in recent times.

Now that I have that off my chest, I can report that, leaving the car crash of a final track aside, the rest of the album isn’t half bad, and certainly grows on you. There are at least four or five understated, dreamy ballads that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the first album; but for every one that works, like the beautiful 'Calgary', there’s one whose experimental feel makes you wish Vernon had been a little more ruthless in his editing process– the edgy, desperately confused post rock shambles that is 'Minnesota, WI' springs to mind.

It’s a real shame because there’s a very good album trying to break out here, and you have to hand it to Vernon for having the cojones to not play it safe; for at least trying to do something dazzlingly different. He has taken the gamble that Thom Yorke and co. took a decade or so when they ripped up the blueprint and came up with Kid A which, lest we forget, was universally panned on release, but is now safely in the pantheon. A musical pioneer will naturally have a knack of staying a step ahead of the pack, which is why the critics sometimes fail to get it at first, but given time, their music will define their generation, and others will continuously come back to pay homage and to imitate. With Bon Iver, there is an attempt at pioneering, but the reality is a sense of looking back, a sense of things that have been done, and been done better. The progressive aspect of this album is its splicing of genres, styles and sounds which have hitherto never been combined. The failure of the project is the realisation that there is a very good reason for this.

- Ken O’Meara