Sound — 10
Anyone who is familiar with "For Emma, For Ever Ago" - Bon Iver's first studio album - will be able to recount the surprisingly sparse (yet completely filling) sound of overlapped guitars and overlapped voices that come together to give the album the signature "hauntingly-enthralling-lovesick" sound.
"Bon Iver" - Bon Iver's second studio album - still achieves this enthralled, indescribable feel that the listener got from "For Emma", but the method to acheive this is in some ways completely opposite.
"Bon Iver" was released almost four years after "For Emma". In the time between the two recordings, Justin Vernon - the singer and principle composer for Bon Iver - had a lot of style-changing experiences including his work with Kanye West and Gayngs. The result is an album that is fundamentally different from the sparse and minimal sounding "For Emma".
"For Emma" was produced with a couple of SM-57s and an 8-track mixer; "Bon Iver" was produced masterfully with ProTools and a dozen-plus accompanying musicians. Someone who is expecting "Bon Iver" to be sonically identical to "For Emma" will be let down.
Whereas, "For Emma"'s sonic foundations were of overlapped acoustic guitars and nihilistic drumming, "Bon Iver" is very dense: songs like "Holcone" feature reverb-laden overdubbed acoustic guitars with synth layers that create this ambient, mystique filled sound, something that is present in all of the songs of the album.
The sonic-qualities of the vocals are similar to "For Emma" in that Justin Vernon uses overdubbed vocals sung at various pitches to create a choir-sounding timbre that compliments the ambient, far-reaching sonics of the rest of the instrumentation.
Some tracks get into an almost rock-category such as the opening track "Perth" which is composed with a "Civil War sounding drum line" complimented with a couple of distorted (yet open, melodic, and slightly euphoric sounding) guitars. Similar to "Perth" are tracks like "Towers", which opens with a guitar - toned similar to "Perth" - and Justin Vernon's choir vocals. The song evolves into a vocal-line being accompanied by a saxophone into a bluegrass-esque/two-time-step style.
A couple of songs - "Hinnom, TX" and the closing track "Beth/Rest" get into an almost experimental/electronic range, yet the folk elements remain. "Beth/Rest" especially has this particurally 80's feel to it, something that reminds me a lot of the work that Justin Vernon did with the alt-rock supergroup Gayngs.
Lyrics — 9
Bon Iver's lyrics are not the most important factor in the songs, they are simply an additional tool for transmitting the emotions that Justin Vernon wishes to pass on.
Therefore, the lyrics are often hard to understand, slurred, and reverb-laden. But this is not a bad thing by any means: somehow the meaning of the songs, the themes, etc. Are still understood.
Most of the songs deal with some variation of love, lovesickness, loss of love, etc. And this is somehow imparted even though the majority of the lyrics are both hard to understand and cryptic.
With that being said, looking at the lyrics in the album booklet, you will find lots of descriptive metaphors. To an untrained or ignorant reader, the lyrics will often seem random or meaningless but they are often allegorical and metaphorical.
Overall Impression — 10
Like said before, the album is in some ways completely opposite of "For Emma, Forever Ago" and yet the same enthralled feeling that "For Emma" gives the listeners remains with "Bon Iver", perhaps to a greater degree.
The way I listen to music, I have a "Best!" playlist which consists of about 600+ songs that are five-starred from my main library. Every single song on the album got all five stars and is on my playlist (the same is true for the songs on "For Emma"). I think that each song is amazingly strong; I do like some more than others, but they are all amazing.
Each song is both explicitly and subliminally different, yet they all flow into one another to make the album a 40 minute sonic adventure that still manages to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, make your eyes slightly water, and send chills down your spine. Like "For Emma", this album is a tonic for sleepless nights, comfort for heartbreak, a catalyst for tears flowing; one of the best albums in my collection.