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The Loggia playlist: Bon Iver (2011)

Verdict: 4 out of 5 flannel shirts

It’s been said that art can never live in a vacuum, but I’d reckon that this album still carries a lot more baggage than most. For those who are unfamiliar with the history behind Bon Iver, I won’t waste too much time on the details. Thank God for Wikipedia! Suffice to say, Justin Vernon’s previous project—”For Emma, Forever Ago”—was written in a log cabin up in Wisconsin, where the (then) unknown folk singer was living in “Waldon”-esque seclusion, battling a bad case of mono following the dissolution of his band. The album he recorded—never intended for release but still suspiciously self-aware—got rave reviews for its sad, beautiful sound and careful instrumentation in 2007. Needless to say, this put a lot of pressure on Vernon to deliver a follow-up: a tall order for a guy who made a name for himself by being introverted and angsty.  Well, it’s taken him a long time, but “Bon Iver” is well worth the wait. Richly produced, acoustically varied and complex, this is a masterful record—the kind that only a true visionary with devoted, talented help could achieve. Rather than buckling under pressure, Vernon has clearly used his time in the spotlight to hone his talents as a musician. Although Vernon uses his voice as the chief instrument throughout the album (especially in the nostalgic swell of “Holocene”), his lyrics are equally notable. My only complaint is that his words sometimes get lost in the layered ensemble of drums, guitars, saxophones, French horns, flutes, synthesizers and other instruments. When he experiments with auto-tune in “Beth/Rest” (expanding on his guest appearance in Kanye’s “Lost in the World”), the effect is even more confusing. Thankfully, Vernon conveys more of his emotion through the sound of his voice than through the words themselves. The end result is really, really beautiful—if not a little bit moody. But then again, this is first and foremost an emotional, contemplative record. While many songs stand strong on their own (particularly “Minnesota, WI” and “Calgary”), “Bon Iver” should be treated first and foremost as a set piece. The songs complement each other well and flow naturally—making this a great record for headphones and long car trips. I probably wouldn’t play it at a party, but it sure sounds great in my room. Wherever I listen to “Bon Iver”, I can get lost in it. A worthy successor to “Emma”, this album falls short of a true sequel if only because it surpasses its predecessor in depth and originality.

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