I’ll admit, I’m a late-comer to the Bon Iver bandwagon. Sure, I liked a couple of the songs from his debut release, “For Emma, Forever Ago,” but he wasn’t someone I considered a “must see” if he came to my town to play a show. I’d have considered it, mind you, and might have bought a ticket if I had nothing better going on, but he wasn’t one of the top artists on my radar, ever after Kanye West brought him in to collaborate on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
But then, a couple of weeks ago, I read a New York Times Magazine profile on Justin Vernon, the man behind the Bon Iver “project” as he calls it (He reminds me a lot of Iron and Wine in this respect — both have beards, sing soulful, haunting tunes, and put out records under pseudonyms.), and I found myself suddenly going back to his first album and listening with renewed interest. Perhaps oddly, I like and appreciate the debut more now that I know the backstory — which is that he composed, performed and produced the whole thing while secluded in his family’s cabin in rural Wisconsin during the winter a few years ago — and am officially mildly obsessed with Justin Vernon. The man recorded his first album alone in the woods, for Christ’s sake!
From the aforementioned NY Times Magazine profile:
Everything came crashing down when Vernon had a bad run playing poker. “I lost $220 online, which at that point was all my money,” Vernon says. “It was a microcosm of the rest of the stuff in my life — like, yes, you are actually not able to control this.” Before the year was out, the band collapsed, and Vernon packed up his car and drove back to Eau Claire. After a brief stop at his parents’ house, he headed straight for his father’s hunting cabin, on an 80-acre plot about an hour northwest of Eau Claire, where he hid out for a few months in late 2006 and early 2007.
Despite the myth that has grown around “For Emma, Forever Ago,” it wasn’t all seamless magic in the cabin. He did odd jobs for his father, who would periodically drop in. “People that talk about it, like, ‘You must have stripped wood and done all these things.’ I did all those things.” Vernon said. But he also watched a lot of DVDs and drank.
After a few weeks alone in the woods, though, he could sense his mental state shifting: “Those weird conversations where, like, it’s so quiet for so many days where it’s actually starting to affect you.” The songs began spilling out. Vernon began emphasizing feel above all, experimenting with various forms of vocal manipulation, including Auto-Tune. He also developed his falsetto, which he’d toyed with a bit in North Carolina. “I realized that I have all of this information in all of those higher registers,” he said. “All of a sudden I realized all of these female things that I was never able to.”
And so Bon Iver’s much-anticipated, self-titled follow-up to “For Emma, Forever Ago” goes on sale today and the reviews have so far been rather glowing. Paste‘s Josh Jackson called it a “triumphant record, one that may well be my favorite of the year.” And Pitchfork gave it a 9.5 rating. I just downloaded it and plan to listen to it during a walk later today — I’ll come back and interject a comment then.
In the meantime, here’s the official video for “Calgary,” the first release off of the new record…
And here’s a pretty amazing cover Bon Iver did of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that’s supposed to be the B-side to the “Calgary” single…
Oh, and Justin Vernon/Bon Iver was on the Colbert Report last night, where he was interviewed and then performed “Calgary” and “Skinny Love.” Enjoy…