I tend to get excited about stuff. This is going to sound ridiculous, but sometimes I get so excited for an album, I can’t tell if I like it or not when I finally hear it, and Bon Iver’s eponymous sophomore album is a great example. His debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, was a critically acclaimed success story with one of the most touching origin stories in recent memory, setting the stage for a highly anticipated follow up. So when NPR posted their First Listen preview on June 9, guess who listened to the album three times, backtobacktoback? (I’ll give you a hint: it’s the same guy who spent last evening tweeting at Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr about the Detroit Pistons’ draft picks…) Right away, I could tell the album was both beautiful and complicated, but I couldn’t tell if I was enjoying the album, appreciating it or just excited to be finally hearing it. Instead of picking it apart, I tried something different. I put it down, walked away and came back a week and a half later, when the album was released. The moment I returned, I knew that I loved it. You know the few microseconds when a song first comes on, before you consciously recognize which song it is, when your brain reflexively says either “Oh, I like this!” or “Oh, I’ve heard this! It sucks!”? Every single one of the songs on Bon Iver passed the reflex test — my unconscious mind greeted each one like an old friend. If you haven’t heard the album yet, you’re in for a treat. It’s a complex web of styles, emotions and images that add up to an incredible listening experience. Check out the official video for “Calgary” above, and click here to buy the album from iTunes.
By now, the origin story of Bon Iver’s wildly successful’ debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, has become indie rock legend. In the winter of 2006, the band’s founder, Justin Vernon, retreated to a remote cabin in Wisconsin to recover from illness and heartbreak, and ended up writing a number of bittersweet songs that captured the attention of critics, blogs, listeners and, of course, Kanye West. I enjoyed the album when I first heard it, but it was his performance on Later… with Jools Holland that made me realize what makes Bon Iver so special. Later… with Jools Holland (or just Later… for short) is an awesome show on BBC that features four or five bands each week, the artists arranged in a big circle, with audience members sitting in between the bands. For the two years immediately after college, I had access to Later… on demand and would filter through back episodes, checking out the diverse collection of performances. Bon Iver’s stopped me in my tracks. It’s a solo performance of “Skinny Love,” just Justin and a steel body guitar, and in four stirring minutes, he conjures the profound loneliness of that Wisconsin winter and transforms it into something greater, more universal, beautiful and, in an inspiring way, confident. I get the chills every time I see it. I hope you’ll check it out and see what I mean, and keep an eye out for his self-titled follow up album, which will be released on June 21.