It’s usually the quiet ones that you have to watch out for. Bon Iver – that Francophonic play on words for ‘good winter’ explore lush, warmer climes on this eponymous follow-up to the lauded debut For Emma, Forever Ago. The sparser sound of that acclaimed debut has given way to a more grandiose affair. Songwriter Justin Vernon has broken the ice. Opening track “Perth” builds majestically with some military style drumming and a late blast of brass promising a warmer season for the son of Wisconsin.
Some of that earlier camp-fire intimacy does survive. “Holocene” mesmerises with a gentle beauty that rouses more seamlessly than almost everything else here. “Michicant” could be equally enticing but the funereal breaks designed perhaps for atmosphere seem only to disjoint the mood whilst the ambient soulfulness of “Hinnom, TX” threatens to mutate into a disco glitterball attack but merely peters out with some bleeps and twinkles
This may be the epitome of a ‘difficult second album’. Elsewhere the minimalism of “Lisbon, Oh” goes nowhere and just juxtaposes the rather too shiny production elsewhere on Bon Iver. This move away from stripped down isolation to a fuller aural assault works best on “Minnesota, WI” with Vernon’s haunting refrain of “never gonna break, never gonna break”. If that’s the zenith then “Beth/Rest” really is the nadir for Bon Iver. Recalling the awful MOR radio-friendly fare pumped out by Chicago way back when big hair and vocoders seemed like a good idea it’s insipid and a world away from anything on For Emma, Forever Ago.
Bon Iver may be a somnambulist’s delight or perhaps simply an acquired taste. In this age of immediacy it’s an album that will wash over you as insignificantly as your daily shower. More lush it may be but lovelier it isn’t because greater beauty lies in Vernon’s more isolated work. Rediscover the art of listening though and Bon Iver may still engage you for long enough to see through the newly applied gloss.