Release Date: Jan 20, 2009
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Winter songwriter leaves seasonal trappings behind"Blood Bank" is, well, electric. Meaning that the opening track of Bon Iver's EP of the same name isn't, you know, acoustic. While usually an unremarkable descriptor for rock music, here it marks a notable departure for a songwriter whose sophomore release just can't be listened to without comparison to its predecessor, For Emma, Forever Ago.
In a year of reclusive solo artists, it’s odd no-one chose to compare Bon Iver and Burial, seeing as how the similarities extend far beyond their media-profiles. Some while back, before his unmasking, the Artist Still Mostly Known as Burial described ‘Archangel’ as the realization, or vocalization, of the feminine part of his soul. It’s unclear how many distinct voices sing the sequential phrases "Holding you / Kissing you / Let it be alone" – whether it’s a single take, pitch-shifted in real-time (to locate the least artificial-sounding voice, on that last phrase), or several overdubbed; point is: the production enacts a search for that anima, and the process of its recovery or integration into the psyche of the song, or singer.
I am going to preface this review of Bon Iver’s new EP with a wimpy account of what For Emma, Forever Ago meant to me. But this review would work just as well without this self-indulgent and needless preface so if you hate this type of thing, please proceed to the second paragraph now. I went to Europe for a month and a half last year and the night before I left I uploaded a bunch of new albums on my iPod; among them was For Emma.
Bon Iver's newest offering is just four songs long, but it's enough to hold fans until Justin Vernon births a full-length follow-up to 2008's acclaimed For Emma, Forever Ago. The EP sees Vernon stretch his songwriting and singing muscles, most notably on the a cappella Auto-Tune experiment Woods. Initially off-putting due to the pitch-corrector's close association with the grossest of gross pop, Woods slowly enchants with mesmerizing vocal layers that pay no mind to verse/chorus/verse conventions.
To say that 2008 was a big year for Justin Vernon is a slight understatement. Armed with a striking falsetto and a haunting folk album created in quiet isolation, the singer/songwriter also known as Bon Iver shot from relative obscurity to critical praise and year-end “best of” lists. The mythology surrounding the man no doubt contributed to some of his success—a bearded, brooding, and broken soul who literally traipsed out of the Wisconsin woods like some honey-voiced hunter with a sack of introspective songs slung over his shoulder.
This vinyl-only four-track EP features songs recorded during and after the Wisconsin sessions that led to For Emma, Forever Ago, this magazine's 2008 Album of the Year. Justin Vernon extends his musical palette here, pushing this material to its haunting limits. Take the multilayered harmonies of Woods, where four Auto-tuned lines are repeated mantra-like, or the hypnotic soul of Babys.