mon 15/07/2024

CD of the Year: Bon Iver - Bon Iver | reviews, news & interviews

CD of the Year: Bon Iver - Bon Iver

CD of the Year: Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Justin Vernon delivers a tone poem of many colours

Bon Iver's warm and honeyed sweetness

The albums that work their way under your skin are few and far between. The second CD by Justin Vernon, aka Bon Iver, is one of those earworm-laden offerings that leave you wanting for more and haunted by seductive phrases and catchy tunes. There is something irresistible and addictive about the symphonic pop that Vernon has crafted as the follow-up to his crystalline exploration of lost love, For Emma, Forever Ago

While his first album – a demo he produced alone in a forest cabin – was a single-hued masterpiece of simplicity, Bon Iver is a tone poem of many colours, a segue of melancholy moods, transformed into something joyful by a rich and sophisticated orchestration that plays on textural contrasts between delicate plucked guitars, rippling banjo, frequent washes of pedal steel and the occasional and tasteful incursion of strings, saxes and brass. Vernon uses electronic sounds as well, exploiting the rich palette of synthetic possibilities with characteristic subtlety

The album’s warm and honeyed sweetness, just the safe side of syrupy, contributes to its appeal. Vernon doesn’t just know how to make the most of a hook, but writes memorable melodies. He has an unerring sense of drama, the sequence of tracks unfolding with a sense of inevitability that avoids predictable narrative. He’s a master of the climax, building waves of euphoria as uplifting as anything from the pop of the last 50 years. 

Those months in the cabin mourning the loss of Emma helped Justin Vernon tap into his emotional world. It wasn’t obvious he would find his way forward from an album so thoroughly steeped in sadness. Success has a way of cramping an artist’s style or fixing it in a self-fulfilling loop. Bon Iver has moved on, but with a heart that is still firmly rooted in the sorrow of the world, and equipped with the creative skill to transcend it.

Overleaf: watch Bon Iver's video for "Holocene"

He’s a master of the climax, building waves of euphoria as uplifting as anything from the pop of the last 50 years


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters