Today’s album is an unusual choice. It is another highly rated folk album, as we have “For Emma, Forever Ago” by Bon Iver at #2 on the Top 10 Folk Albums of all Time, as rated by nme.com. That said, like Bright Eyes, it feels more like indie rock than folk rock. Bon Iver ultimately turned into a fully populated band, but for this album, it was essentially a 100% solo effort by leader, singer and songwriter Justin Vernon. He recorded the album when he moved into a remote hunting cabin in Wisconsin as an escape from life and society as well as some medical challenges, and I really love that story. I wish I could say the same about the album, but it just doesn’t really catch my interest. I think my biggest challenge is the perpetual falsetto voice of Vernon, it just isn’t very appealing to me. In general, I think falsetto is a great technique as a contrast, vs. the primary or solitary voice of a vocalist. I know that doesn’t always apply as I know Brian Wilson and Aaron Neville are two of my favorite singers who almost exclusively sing in falsetto, but for this record it just doesn’t work quite as well, at least for me. As a solo album, any of the vocals on a track like “The Wolves (Act I and II)” are Vernon’s voice double-tracked in harmony.
Like almost every album, even the ones I don’t love, I can find a few tracks that stand out above the rest. For me, the favorites on this record start with “For Emma”, which is one of the only songs to feature outside musicians with multiple horns that add nicely to the mood. My second favorite track is the first song, “Flume”, which is a great mood setter and opening track. Knowing the backstory, it is easy to see Vernon piecing this song together along in the middle of nowhere. The first single from the album is “Skinny Love”, and this song feels a bit like a blend of Coldplay and Mumford & Sons.
Fortunately, my son has a wider lens for a lot of music than I do, and he was able to add some important context on Bon Iver, not the least of which was how to properly pronounce their name (Bone ee-VAIR). He also mentioned their credibility across several genres and multiple collaborations with Kanye West. Clearly, they are highly accomplished and well respected, and I can sense the legitimacy and sincerity of their music on this album. Not an all-time favorite, but a positive experience, nonetheless.