Second Dates With Bon Iver
Writing a second album must be like getting ready for a second date. You've played many of your most charming and best prepared cards on the first, and now there's a decision to make. Do you raise the ante and try to impress in new ways, or do you settle into your more comfortable self, hoping that your audience will like you for who you are, despite your faults?
Indie folkie Bon Iver's second LP, a self-titled 2011 release, takes the former approach, breaking out of the isolated, man-of-the-woods, Nick Drake inspired sound and morphing into the leader of a staggeringly huge band. The sheer number of instruments washes over the songs in tidal waves, often smothering parts that could have been fully fleshed song ideas in an effort to create vast, moving soundscapes. This is an album invested in evoking many somber emotions, rather than capturing singular human experiences, as Bon Iver had done on For Emma, Forever Ago and the follow up EP, Blood Bank.
Holocene, the best song on this album, is a bit clearer in its scenario -- guy finds himself in emotionally ennui, sees his relationships crumble, recognizes his own failings -- and the stunning chorus (one of the only songs that actually has one), succeeds because the setup makes sense. The best lyrics allow a listener to connect with the artist's experience and recognize something meaningful in his/her own life. Singer/songwriter Vernon has largely dismissed this notion here with lines like the word salad, "ramble in the roots, had the marvel, moved the proof be kneeled fine’s glowing storing up the clues" on the song, "Minnesota, WI".
Vernon impressively finds more range in his delivery on this record, not only in honing his falsetto and upper register (and dropping the vocoder), but in deepening the character of his voice spanning from honey to gravel to fit the song's tone. When Bon Iver collaborated with Kanye West on My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy, West praised Vernon's "fearlessness," a trait he puts to the test on this eponymous sophomore release.