sun 09/08/2020

CD: Bon Iver - Bon Iver | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Bon Iver - Bon Iver

CD: Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Log-cabin man is now sonically richer but less engaging

Part of the problem lies in the fact that Vernon seems to prefer to hide behind his multitracked, tightly harmonised, high-register vocals, a process that has a “blanding”, distancing effect on the songs’ emotional content – it all ends up sounding a bit sad, a bit sweet, but never much more than that. Why is he so afraid of exposing himself? There’s a video of him singing “Skinny Love” on his own on Later… with Jools Holland (see video below) and it’s heartbreakingly raw; here, though, all is smooth and glossy, with only some little details in the fringes – a burble of clarinet here, some vaguely discordant guitars there – to send ripples across the pond.

And too many of the songs themselves lack strength of purpose and melodic power; repeated listenings yield few dividends. Some tracks do stand out: “Holocene” is sweet and melodic, while “Calgary” has an epic quality, a crescendo that steadily accrues substance and impact. But what was he thinking of when he recorded the closing song, “Beth/Rest”? The keyboards are hideously cheesy, the drums sound dull, thuddy and mechanical, while Vernon’s voice is heavily treated with what sounds like Autotune. A guitar howls; a steel guitar simpers. It sounds like the theme tune to a forgotten straight-to-video movie from the 1980s. A strange end to a patchy and disappointing album.

Overleaf: Bon Iver sings "Skinny Love" on Later... with Jools Holland

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