I’m excusing myself from describing what this record is. If by some minor miracle you haven’t come across Bon Iver in some form or other then there are forests of deads trees and millions of fading web pages available for you to brush up.
I brought this album along for one reasonably straightforward reason. I think it’s interesting and worthy of discussion for lots of reasons (and I also think it’s terrific) but I know that both Tom and Nick have already passed over it with little intention of returning. Tom, I suspect, because he hasn’t given it sufficient chance, Nick because he’s taken an irrational dislike to Justin Vernon and has little or no intention of redressing that (nothing wrong with irrational dislikes of course, at least when it comes to art – I like some of my own dislikes very much thank you, and would hate to see them go). This record is, in my superficial view at least, very similar in some important ways to records which they both revere.
Most previous meetings have been driven by the desire of the players to present music which will surprise and either delight or challenge the others, perhaps a name they’ve heard but music they have not. So it felt a little odd to be offering an album released in the last twelve months which went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies, topping several end of year lists and eventually scooping a Grammy.
For me, ‘Bon Iver’ works in two important ways. Firstly, it shows Justin Vernon as an artist striving to move his music into new territory. Presumably nothing would have been easier for him than to disappear back to Wisconsin to record ‘Cabin In The Woods 2’. Instead he worked with other musicians, began to craft pastoral sound sculptures with Volcano Choir and ultimately developed a new approach which combined the intimacy of his debut record with the epic scale and complexity of the landscape he grounded it in. He has a painterly technique on this second album, layering sounds to build up immersive scenes. It’s a huge leap from his first, more than those of us who loved ‘For Emma…’ had any right to expect, and he pulls it off majestically.
Secondly, it’s a just a beautiful collection of sounds and songs. It swoons, dips and soars and even if Vernon’s lyrical obfuscations take some panning to reveal their precious metal, the way he uses his voice as an additional instrument, or suite of instruments, creates a canvas awash with raw emotion.
To summarise, I think this is a great album, I knew that the others might disagree and figured that would make for an interesting discussion. And so it proved.
Nick listened: Taste is a funny thing, contributed to by so many factors, many of which are either so irrational that they can’t be explained, or else so rational that they don’t make any sense – for instance not liking a band because you don’t like their fans and don’t want to be associated with them, even if, on an aesthetic or emotional level, you actually do respond positively to the music. It’s rational, on one level, but denying yourself the pleasure of their music doesn’t make sense. And so on and so forth.
So, Bon Iver, who I still insist on pronouncing like Ivor The Engine. The first album got raved about. I bought it because it’s named after my wife. I thought it was boring off a couple of listens, put it on the shelf, and ignored it. Still people went on about it. And on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and so on and so forth, to the point where I refused to listen to it ever again and became irritated by the mere thought of it. Then he worked with Kanye on the monstrous abomination that is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Then someone bought him a Talk Talk album or something, and Pitchfork made him album of the year, and I listened to it and it was alright but why is he doing that awful thing with his voice? So I ignored it, again, and, in conversation, played up my dislike for kicks. Because its fun to irrationally dislike things with comic intensity!
I actually quite enjoyed listening to it for a second time, in record club context. If I saw it for a fiver (HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE FIVER, EH?! IT’S NOT BLOODY FEE-VEHR, IS IT?!) I might buy it and listen to it some more.
Tom Listened: I too liked this album a bit more than I had previously on listening to it at record club, but not THAT much more. And I was a big fan of For Emma. I think there are a couple of fundamental differences here for me and I am not sure any amount of listening will enable me to overcome them.
The first is the juxtaposition of Justin Vernon’s singing and the sound of the record itself. On For Emma, Vernon’s hushed, plaintive falsetto fitted the intimate, mainly acoustic instrumentation and created a fuzzy warmth and familiarity I found reassuring and enjoyable. Whilst not pushing any envelopes, I thought that For Emma…was a natural place for Justin Vernon to inhabit and its soundscapes fitted his vocals like the proverbial glove. I can appreciate the risk Vernon has taken on Bon Iver. It is admirable that he has looked to move on, not just make the same record again. I just feel that has looked in the wrong place. Without those warm tones (maybe Rob feels warmth in these songs, maybe he doesn’t need to), I find his voice to be faintly irritating, until Calgary that is, when he drops out of falsetto mode and, for me, it suddenly (and all too briefly)just clicks into place.
Playing Bon Iver at DRC has made me more predisposed to give this a few more listens and I am glad that Rob brought it along (I suspect he’s right in stating that I haven’t listened to it enough)…it’s just that I probably enjoyed the discussion more than the record itself!
Graham listened: By virtue of one of the minor miracles that Rob referred to, I arrived at this meeting from under my rock, with no concept of what Bon Iver would sound like. I’ve heard the name and that was it. While fellow members firmly set out their respective positions on this album, what I could hear sounded very interesting. Not that I was looking for revenge but hopefully Tom has forgiven me for my phone interrupting Calgary with news of Andy Carroll’s late winner at Blackburn.
Since the meeting I’ve listened to bits of the album again and the multilayered and complex sounds are really drawing me in. I’m finding the vocal style a major stumbling block at present, but some of that could be the influence of the discussions on the night. Time will tell…………