Bon Iver review by Bon Iver

logo Ultimate Guitar
  • Released: Jun 20, 2011
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 6
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 6.7 Neat
  • Users' score: 9.1 (55 votes)
Bon Iver: Bon Iver

Sound — 7
This self-titled album is the second full length release by Bon Iver. If you haven't listened to Bon Iver before, the group is the brainchild of Justin Vernon, and is kind of an indie rock type of act. Reading about Justin Vernon, you will learn that he seems to recluse himself to a remote location somewhere cold when he writes songs. What he comes up with is unique compositions, which are very melodic instrumentally and vocally. Justin Vernon tends to sing in a very high lilting register, which has an almost mesmerizing quality, but always begins to be more grating than anything else before I listen to an entire album.

My first impression of the sound of this album is that it could absolutely be the soundtrack to a dark drama or dark comedy. While listening to this album I can absolutely see scenes of a guy sitting in his car in a parking lot in the snow, resting his head on the steering wheel wondering where everything went wrong. The album, in my opinion, has a very relaxed thoughtful mood to it, but at the same time seems sad and just a little dark.

Bon Iver's first album, "For Emma, Forever Ago" seems to have a slightly more raw grit and energy type of feel to it, that "Bon Iver" isn't completely missing, but is missing when compared to the first album. "Bon Iver" does seem to have a much better quality of production without coming off as over produced. I had read that Justin Vernon brought in some outside musicians in order to help him flesh out his songs to help him stay away from becoming that guy singing with an acoustic guitar, but I think I would like him better as "that guy singing with an acoustic guitar". A lot of times throughout the album I felt like the extra peripheral instrumentation was taking more away than it was bringing to the songs.

Lyrics — 6
Trying to make my way through the lyrics of "Bon Iver" was overwhelming. The lyrics seem to transition from literal observations, to metaphorical, to intimate thoughts and back again from line to line. They are all delivered in that lilting almost falsetto voice of Justin Vernon that is mesmerizing at times, and grating at others. As an example, here are some lyrics from the song "Holocene" off the album: "Christmas night, it clutched the light, the hallow bright / above my brother, I and tangled spines / we smoked the screen to make it what it was to be / now to know it in my memory".

I read that Justin Vernon writes his lyrics by first singing a wordless melody and recording it, then listening back to it. While listening back to it, he writes words that fit the melody. I'm not sure how I feel about this lyric writing technique from a poetic standpoint, but you have to admit that the vocal melody on the album is immaculate.

Overall Impression — 7
"Bon Iver", the self-titled album, was my introduction to Bon Iver as a group, and after listening to this album I went back and listened to their first studio album, "For Emma, Forever Ago", and I have to say that I do much prefer their first album. "Bon Iver" is not a bad album, and has several strong songs. The opening song of the album, "Perth", is a very strong song with a nice intro melody and an overall mellow and otherworldly feel to it. The song "Michicant" has a very waltzy feel to it and again a very nice vocal melody. "Beth/Rest" closes the album with a strong vocal melody and prominent peripheral instrumentation. My favorite song on the album would have to be "Calgary", which really seems to be a strong song in all categories.

7 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This deserves more than 6.7, don't review it in comparison to the debut album, it deserves to be marked on its own merit. I would give it a 7.5, it's a beautiful album.
    I am only on the third song, but I am much enjoying this album. I feel it was good to push for this musical direction, otherwise he would just try and recreate the last album and it would never stop being compared. Musicians mature, Justin has.
    I think this is a little harsh - although I agree this album doesn't equal the genius of the first record. I see where you're coming from on the lyrics point of view, but Justin's singing is spectacular as always, never grating! I think I'd go for an 8 overall...
    I actually think this album is a perfect progression from For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon and his band have really matured as musicians and it shows through repeated listens of this album. I really liked it upon first listen, but fell in love after a few more. I'd say at least an 8.5 for me.
    You have to look at how each section is weighted equally, as well. While Sound, Lyrics and Overall Impression are weighted equally for the final rating the "Overall Impression" rating gives a clearer rating of how the reviewer perceived the album. I honestly think a 7 is an appropriate rating for this album.
    what a coincidence that i see this guy on the colbert report and i am hearing him play as i type this. i'd say so far, the lower reviews are accurate for the score (in my opinion)
    I've not heard it, but 6.7 is plenty high. I very good album should be rated a 7-7.5. Clearly, this was just a notch below that. (In the opinion on the reviewer).