Bon Iver, founded by vocalist and mastermind Justin Vernon, has issued their big statement with their latest, Bon Iver. Coming in with stuttering electric guitar and military drums, “Perth” opens Bon Iver as a cinematic statement. It’s an album looking to push Bon Iver to Radiohead importance. With the songs segueing seamlessly into one another, Bon Iver is structured as a road trip, as the majority of the songs are named after places, including “Minnesota, WI” and “Hinnom, TX”. Banjo, swaying horns and ornamental percussion provide the album’s sonic palette, best recalling Sufjan Stevens, as well as a latter-day Crosby, Stills and Nash. The geographical fascination along with the off-kilter instrumentation pulls the listener through a musical tapestry of Americana.
Imbued with the same vocal harmony magic that propelled Kanye West’s “Lost in the World” to such great heights, Bon Iver’s strength definitely lies in the vocals, rendered beautifully by Vernon. Ranging from a multi-layered, ghostly tenor to dark, rick baritone, it’s Vernon’s vocals that pull the listener through the album, as well making the album a unified statement. Vernon’s vocal elasticity has the album sounding like everything from Kings of Convenience to TV on the Radio. “Calgary” reaches hymnal heights, all a capella vocals before being joined by rolling drums and brushed acoustic guitar. Such adventurous instrumentation and wide-ranging vocal variety yields mostly positive results, with a few missteps.
Album closer “Beth/Rest” unfortunately roams into schlocky ’80s territory, with electric guitars straight out of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. Key track “Holocene” lays jazzy horns on finger-picked guitar, creating an aural ambiance emblematic Bon Iver. That musical outlook is the goal and theme of the entire album, with Bon Iver looking to take traditional folk tunes and put into them a sense of the natural world. The result is an album that breathes as well as soothes.