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It takes ten seconds to start but when it does, you’re excited. There’s so much promise in the upbeat first track “Perth” as you instantly remember why you fell in love with this band. Justin Vernon described this long-awaited second album as lyrically an extension of the much loved 2008 debut “For Emma, Forever Ago”, and at once the similarities are obvious. But this time it feels even bigger and more ambitious. For a start, there’s a military sounding snare drum that rallies your attention and intrigues you with what’s to come.
The track that immediately jumps out as being both very similar and a step away from the first record is “Hinnom, TX”. Die hard Bon Iver fans may find this blasphemous, but it does sound a bit Chris Martin like as the lines “in the first of light/past the Noachide” open the track, only to be accompanied by some textbook Bon Iver multi-tracked accompanying vocals. By now the marching beat has mellowed to a just as powerful throbbing pulse for this baritone ballad which feels like an instant Vernon classic.
Rather than being recorded in a remote cabin as “For Emma,...” was, this was recorded in a studio built by Vernon and his brother which Vernon himself claims gave him a “wonderful freedom”, and the sense of space on this record is obvious. In place of cabin fever are synth drums and whilst this is still probably the only artist in the world that sounds appropriate in any season, “Bon Iver” definitely has more summer-y leanings.
At times, especially in the third quarter of the album, you can almost visualise the Monet-esque idyllic lake and willow tree landscape that’s being aurally painted. Then the sexy (yes, sexy) sunset track “Beth/Rest” finishes the album gloriously with a well-worked sprinking of horns. It’s the track Vernon’s most proud of, and rightly so. Don’t be tempted to skip to this right away though; it works best as a climax to an album that really does take you on a journey from where the previous record left off.
This is an artist who have taken their time to get the album just right and it feels like there’s no stopping them right now. When Vernon defiantly sings the fairytale yet catchy “Never gonna break, never gonna break” in “Minnesota, WI”, you believe him. “Bon Iver”’s more mysterious than “For Emma,...”, more varied, arguably even better produced and already guaranteed to be the soundtrack to this summer. If the rapture had come, we’d have all ascended to the sound of “Bon Iver”, for sure.