Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., June 24, 2011
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After emerging from his Wisconsin cabin exile with 2007's hushed and aching falsetto-bled debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon faced a dilemma: The defining debut was less representative of his compositional ambitions than of an anomalous mellow. Indie idolaters yearning for more "Skinny Love" from 2009's Blood Bank EP were left wondering at its fatter, vocoder-trilled "Woods," so as he's branched into projects like Gayngs' soft-serve indie R&B and Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his earnest, bearded, folky image has faded like so much Iron & Wine. Vernon's sophomore disc thus rings both reassuring and refreshing for fans of the Bon Iver moniker. Dramatic percussion on opener "Perth" consumes yet lets linger Vernon's high, swooned vocals, and "Holocene" strikes familiarly bitter, while "Towers" briefly climbs behind steel guitar. Lyrics burrow indecipherably under effects, but at no loss to the songs' feel. Reaches in arrangement work best on tunes like the low-boomed crawl of "Hinnom, TX" and sparse piano and strings of "Wash.," even as the LP slips into the closing synth-rattled reverb on "Beth/Rest." The expansive arrangements fill the edges of Bon Iver, Bon Iver's sound without losing Vernon's haunting aesthetic, balancing both a fullness and ethereality.