Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Record of the Moment, Record Review: Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Where to start with this record? It's absolutely stunning. I know that gets thrown around a lot (I have, after all, ranted and raved about many records here), but this record simply is that. It's a record that is unlike any other, something that seemingly can't come from this world...but yet, it rings as completely heartfelt, warm, and true when at first it seems that such a record would be impossible to make.
I am going to opt against discussing at length the legend and the myth that surrounds the ethos of Bon Iver, with the whole "cabin in the winter writing songs of heartbreak" thing that everyone else seems to think is paramount to understanding Bon Iver. Partially because I could copy and paste any Bon Iver-related review which will most assuredly host a painstaking analysis over Bon Iver's roots, thus saving me work. But the bigger thing is that for Bon Iver, it's totally unnecessary for understanding or enjoying the record (no backstory should be required to make an album "good," that's for sure).
The one word I would use to describe this record is: ethereal. It seems to exist in a plane of living outside of ours, but the record speaks with a warmth and sincerity. A peculiar way to describe the record, sure, so let me use an analogy even more peculiar which may shed some light. If a dream could be physically represented, I'd personally characterize it as silvery stuff, which is not a very helpful description at all. In many ways, it's sort of reminiscent of the physical manifestation of memories in Harry Potter, but fluffier, perhaps. Either way, it represents something that seems to us as entirely real but isn't exactly real. This bizarre feeling is perhaps the best way I can describe Bon Iver.
The record is essentially structureless: songs fail to adhere to traditional structures, being more abstract landscapes of places ranging from the real ("Perth") to not-so-real ("Hinnom, TX"). But it's not as if that each track decides to take the "Perth sound" or "Tex-Mex" and make a song about it as if creating a pastiche (for that matter, I'm not sure what "Perth sound" would sound like, and the thought of Bon Iver going into "Tex-Mex" is frightening in that it would be odd, but I wouldn't be surprised if Vernon made it work). Each locale on the record has its own mood, style of sound that is evoked during the track, giving something as location-less as an emotion a place to stay, develop, and grow. Each location's emotion is part of a whole and (rather ironically) contributes to that holistic sense of being place-less; Bon Iver essentially asserts that though there are places that generate emotional responses in us, the constant things in life, our emotions, are boundless. The record sounds warm, at home, and pastoral while expanding the horizons of sound and music-craft to dizzying heights bordering (and oftentimes achieving) the epic at the same time.
And I suppose I should mention that perhaps what holds the record together is Justin Vernon's voice. At the same time earthly and beyond this world, his voice is the extremely pliable tool with which the emotional heft of the record is solely based upon. Without its capabilities of a divinely-given and inspired falsetto through to the earthy tones of the lower octaves, the record's emotional base would not exist; given the scope of the music around it, the entire record would have likely collapsed into an overly trite heap of scrap. But Vernon's voice holds it together and creates a record that is far beyond the sum of its parts, creating something truly inspired and beyond here with things of this world.
This is a record is what the world has been waiting for, for a long time. So much of music now and from before is "dated" and bound to a specific time or a specific place. Bon Iver, though, manages to elude such trappings of space and time to contribute something absolutely beautiful, meaningful, and stunning in both beauty and scope. A record truly timeless that will likely stand tall when not only the music of this year is reflected upon, but in the scope of eternity when all things are considered.
ed: Sure, this review is late. Whoops. But in my defense, like this record, I'm not bound to human systems like "time."