Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Take Two)

Bon Iver

I tracked down a low-quality leak of Bon Iver’s self-titled album near the start of May. My internet connection was terrible—it was Southeast Asia—and I was sort of walking around packing, organizing for my move back to the US while I waited the requisite hour for the album to download. I wasn’t a fanboy of For Emma, Forever Ago despite the high playcount in my iTunes library, but I was intrigued, perhaps more by the thought of having the album several weeks in advance than by the album itself.

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(My Living Room in Pakse) 

It was midmorning when I put the thing on, and I didn’t know what to make of it. “Perth” thundered out of my speakers and I was suddenly hooked. Really? This was Bon Iver? It didn’t sound myopic or frozen: it sounded like something full-grown, rich, green. It was warm where For Emma was cold; the affect here had expanded to become epic yet still personal. It was a Justin Vernon who finally sang in Hadestown, Orpheus who’d learned to trust others to sing the rest. The sound cut an easy path through my mind for the next half hour as I scurried through the house displacing boxes, organizing the last of my stuff. “Beth/Rest” made my jaw drop. I stopped and sat down on the couch laughing, thinking “Really? He actually wrote this song? Is this even happening?” It’s eighties melodrama at its absolute best—every time I hear this song I have to suppress the desire to redefine my relationship with whoever’s closest. It’s the least “Bon Iver” song on the album, but that doesn’t keep it from sounding amazing every time. And I mean. Every. Time. IMG 0030

(Colorado Summer) 

I recently began tagging albums according to their season in my iTunes library. M. Ward’s Transfiguration of Vincent is summer because of its warm, earth-yellow tones. Sonya Cotton’s fall-leaf album Red River is an obvious choice for autumn. I try to step back and really let the music’s tone and verve determine the choice of season rather than when I came to the album. I can’t place Bon Iver’s latest, though. It’s a warm, kind cycle of songs, but I couldn’t tell you which season they describe most. Justin Vernon lays waste to Halloween; he sings about iced highways and one-pieced swimmers. Is the album art winter defrosting to spring or a vibrant summer? I can’t decide.

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In the end, I have to throw these classifiers out because this is, for me, one of those rare albums that I think—and hope—will be relevant in each season. Barbara calls them “life albums”. I’m such a geek that I’ve even made a list of these life albums—cycles of music that I keep picking up no matter the season or year, no matter how long ago I discovered it.


(Winter in Wausau) 

Along with seasons, there are images I associate with each album: images that denote place, state of mind, memory. I wrote a while back about Shearwater’s The Golden Archipelago and how it denoted the South Pacific for me. I see some of my favourite images of the Midwest, Wisconsin, duck-call lakes and reeds in Chris Kiehne’s Pray For Daylight, and long lazy trailer park summers in the National’s Alligator. I don’t yet have this for Bon Iver; I’ve walked desert paths in Colorado, and I’m sure I’ll see a number of snow-scapes that resonate, but I wonder if this album didn’t come to me a little too early—I wonder if this is something I’ll be carrying to Mongolia, if it will invoke the wind and plains more than anything else. Time will tell, I guess.


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