Home State Loyalty: A Review of Bon Iver

Murfie has an admitted love for all things Wisconsin, given our location and the fact that Madison really is an absolutely wonderful place. That being said, I certainly didn’t need any bias to appreciate Bon Iver’s 2011 album Bon Iver, created by the Eau Claire-based Justin Vernon. Although my hometown loyalty was what prompted me to listen to this album the first time, it certainly isn’t the reason for listens 2, 3, and 100.

This may mean that my attention span is stunted, but it’s rare for me to find an album that I consistently listen to all the way through. Bon Iver creates the perfect combination of hushed and complex, relaxing but not the least bit boring. It would be easy to dismiss the first few mellow notes as background music, but Vernon’s tracks feel more like escapism. He made the album alone in the woods, and it shows. His songs are deeply intimate, but yet not remotely limited by his low-key recording style.  Vernon may have retreated to his cabin in the woods to hash out his feelings, but he did so in a way that built a whole new, intricately layered sound.

Vernon’s voice alone could carry this album, with his incredibly earthy sound and beautiful upper registers. The biggest improvement from previous album For Emma, Forever Ago, however, is Vernon’s newfound emphasis on his band; he has taken Bon Iver from essentially a one-man project to the work of a group. The addition of instrumentation like strings, horns and electronic sounds makes this album that much more ambitious, and that much more of an accomplishment.

Even Vernon’s track listing is perfect, creating an experience that seamlessly unfolds. Opening with the quiet “Perth” and building to standout tracks like “Holocene” (Track 3) and “Michicant” (Track 5) before closing with the vintage-inspired “Beth/Rest”,  Vernon has supplied a record that has a strong sense of how it flows. That flow is what makes this album so fantastic—it transitions beautifully from one song to arrangement to story without so much as a stumble.

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