Folk Recluse Delivers Triumphant Change-Up

    On For Emma (which, in case you’ve been ignoring indie folklore for the past few years, was recorded in an empty hunting cabin after a particularly difficult break-up), Vernon combined Spartan production values with the kind of relentlessly emotive songwriting that seems impossible to recreate. However, Vernon has somehow one-upped himself on this year’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver (to be released June 21, available for illegal download whenever, thanks to an accidental leak by iTunes).

    The most immediately noticeable difference between the two albums is the production. Where For Emma consisted primarily of acoustic guitar, with the occasional touch of percussion, this record is adorned with countless yet tasteful instrumentation (an approach perhaps encouraged by Vernon’s time with Kanye West), from the jukebox slide guitar on “Towers” to “Beth/Rest”’s soft rock electric piano refrain.

    Moments like the gently interlocking fingerpicked guitar on “Minnesota, WI,” the psychedelic sound collage underlying “Hinnom, TX” or, memorably, the slightly metal-minded double-kick-drum-and-electric-guitar onslaught halfway through “Perth” make Bon Iver, Bon Iver both memorable and endlessly replayable.

    Vernon’s songwriting is more developed, too. Even if none of these tracks reach the vulnerable heights of “Skinny Love” or “RE: Stacks,” it’s clear that Vernon has a sense of melodic expression that’s unparalleled by his contemporaries. The cathartic quasi-squeals at the end of each of “Michicant”’s verses, for example, sound miles away from For Emma’s relatively conventional melodicism.

    Vernon’s simple narratives of love-gone-wrong have been replaced by complex, exceptionally literary lyrics. “Break the sailor’s table on your sacrum / fuck the fiercest fables, I’m with Hagen,” reads the bridge on “Tower” — exemplifying the songwriter’s move from standard folk to stream-of-consciousness tableaux.

    Most importantly, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is a personally rewarding listening experience. Vernon’s lived-in melodies and ornate songwriting have the power to lift you from that cabin in the woods and transport you to strange and absolutely stunning new places, making for what will surely be the most thoughtful (and greatest) album of the summer. (9/10)

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