6 years on, this is still one of my favourite albums ever produced. Never has there been an artist that has made such an impact on me. I could say that Bon Iver the band and Justin Vernon, the mastermind has shaped so much of what I am and what I love. I’m in the mood for reminiscing on one of the most masterful and spectacularly beautiful albums I’ve ever had the privilege of listening to. I’ve seen Bon Iver 3 times now, twice at Sydney Opera House and once at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Each time I was moved to tears.
I could write an essay about the lessons and experiences I associate with this album – this album got me through my first exams as a 1st year nursing student; it comforted me when I was 9763 miles away from home when I studied at Georgetown University in 2012; it has made me cry; it has forged firm friendships and most of all it has made me feel.
So here we go – a (slightly) edited version of one of my first forays into writing about the music I love.
Way back in May 2011, when I first wrote about the building anticipation that I had for the release of Justin Vernon’s band, Bon Iver’s self-titled second album, I wondered whether it could ever surpass all of my wildest expectations…
Sometimes when a singer or band comes along that you have never heard anything like before and you listen to them… and you feel something so raw, sweet, haunting and brilliant that makes something click for you like For Emma, Forever Ago, and you wonder whether anything could ever match or even better the work of art that is that masterpiece of an album, you wonder whether the long awaited follow-up will be “all that” and you’re pleasantly surprised that yes, 3 years wait does pay off and that yes, Justin Vernon is without a doubt a talented artist.
Let’s preface this, Vernon states, “Every song sort of drifted towards that theme, [of] tying themselves to places and trying to explain what places are and what places aren’t.”… take the journey and find out yourself…
“The process wasn’t that unlike the first album… it’s just that we decided to make it sound a little denser and sort-of a little less achy and empty…we wanted it to be full”
The album starts with “Perth” named after Western Australia’s capital city.
Vernon states that,
“the song and the way it sounds and where Perth is, it’s like the world’s most isolated capital city, I think that spoke to me… the whole record starts in Perth. Perth can be the beginning of stuff, and for me Perth is like birth in this record – the whole chaotic aspect of being born and how messy it is, I guess.”
With it’s haunting and eerie drum beats and searing hook “still alive who you love”, Perth is an unforgettable and brilliant introduction to the luscious journey that lies ahead.
never gonna break
never gonna break
Arguably one of the most famous songs from the album, Vernon suggests, “the title is a metaphor for when you’re not doing well. But it’s also a song about redemption and realising that you’re worth something; that you’re special and not special at the same time.”
…and at once I knew
I was not magnificent…
I could see for miles, miles, miles
“Towers” is a true tribute to the Native American-preserved land in Washington state where the video was shot.
for the love, I’d fallen on
in the swampy August dawn
what a mischief you would bring young darling!
when the onus is not all your own
when you’re up for it before you’re grown
Vernon states, “It’s about the things you can’t do any more. So if you do you’ll be sent to West Michigan for ever.” (In other words – Hell).
love can hardly leave the room with your heart
No, it’s not a real town in Texas, but…
well it swirls and it sweeps
you just set it
I… I’m telling darkness from lines on you
don’t you cherish me to sleep
never keep your eyelids clipped
hold me for the pops and clicks
I was only for the father’s crib
hair, old long along
your neck on to your shoulder blades
always keep that message taped
cross your breasts you won’t erase
I was only for your very space
hip, under nothing
propped up by your other one,
face ‘way from the sun
just have to keep a dialogue
teach our bodies: haunt the cause
I was only trying to spell a loss
so it’s storming on the lake
little waves our bodies break
there’s a fire going on,
but there’s really nothing to the south
swollen orange and light let through
your one piece swimmer stuck to you
sold, I’m ever
open ears and open eyes
wake up to your starboard bride
who goes in and then stays inside
oh the demons come, they can subside
“Calgary is more about longing for a place you’ve never been or someone from a place that you’ve never been…” The first single released off the album was a delicious teaser as to what lay ahead for eager listeners. An instantly likeable track with the familiar achy and urgent strains of Justin’s voice guiding us through a story with infinite possibilities in regards to interpretation of the lyrics.
The juxtaposition of sound that Vernon has created from the Birth (Perth) to the Rest (Beth/Rest) is extremely brave and interesting, the 80s vibe is one that takes a few listens to get used to but is a destination well worth the journey which the album takes you on to get to. It is the letting go of things he attributes to being able to write this song – one unlike anything he had ever written before and he states that,
“just like Perth is the beginning of things, Beth/Rest is a place where you rest… it comes to a place and you just sort-of let go…”
this is axiom