Sounds of the World: Bon Iver (America)

There’s nothing better than that emboldened impression left after listening to fresh and evocative music. For me, this happened once in a cinema toilet while Bon Iver’s ‘Skinny Love’ played overhead. Yeah, not the best of starts, but hey, that’s also how I discovered Hozier. The talented singer-songwriter Justin Vernon founded indie-folk band Bon Iver back in 2006, establishing his own innovative sound and developing it ever since.

There is a lonely aching to Iver’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago, with the summoning of acoustic strums and brittle falsettos creating a work of cold remoteness. Opening with ‘Flume’, Vernon’s eerie echoes layer together and form an interiorized choir that grants the listener entrance into the strange space that Bon Iver craft.

The mix between aching folk tunes that fade and swell, with the acoustic lulls of the instruments, establish a keen sense of intuitive rumination of life. This is best heard in The Wolves (Act I and II), with heavy percussion and multi-tracked vocals about isolation and separation from Vernon’s ex-partner. In their live performance the band haunt the song with the lyrics “what might have been” which Vernon surpasses with an inhuman falsetto scream.

A new sound was born after the band took a five-year break that shaped the masterpiece of 22, A Million. The album removes the intimate acoustics and explores a new electronic sound, similar to Kanye West yet with more purpose and vision. The album seems to ask questions as if Vernon, when writing the tracks, interrogated all aspects of his life. This is heard in the first piece 22 (Over S∞∞n), the synthesised lyrics “it might be over soon” establishes an emotional journey to find oneself.

33 (GOD) is a cacophony of religious symbolism which matches the collaboration of electronic beats, wild trumpets and soft “bird shit” which forms a melancholy conversation. The piece splashes Paulo Nutini’s lyrics “we find God and religion” into its skeletal frame to add life and strange experimentation to the track.

Bon Iver’s sound is gently changing yet their ideology stands strong; the exploration into life and the understanding that all things fade and return to where they came from.

By Erran Kerrigan