Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bon Iver- Bon Iver(2011)

Bon Iver- Bon Iver

It must be just awesome to be Justin Vernon.

The figure head and main creative force behind Bon Iver, which contrary to the various promotional photos is not a solo Vernon project but a band featuring Michael Noyce, Mathew McCaughn and Sean Carey(who released a solid solo album this year), Vernon is a huge fucking deal. And the thing is, he always has been: this meteoric rise to the top was destined since high school, when Vernon fronted the band Mt. Vernon, whose music was utterly fantastic and was miles ahead of anything you would expect a band whose members were still taking Algebra 2 classes to ever pull off. He then fronted deYarmored Edison, which released a few critically acclaimed albums before Vernon left for solo stardom. It is debatable how much influence Vernon had on the song-writing process at this time, since the rest of dYE would go on to form the incredible Megafaun, but regardless Vernon used his previous experience as a stepping stone into a log cabin to write For Emma and become the Indie darling he is today while kicking it with Kanye West. The whole process reeks of an ego almost as big as the hype, if not bigger, but then again it takes a serious ego to make an album like Bon Iver.

A complete departure from the Iron and Wine-influenced For Emma, Vernon has taken the band in an entirely new direction without any real warning. Synth, electronic music and electric guitars, drums: Vernon bought out the local music shop and jammed it all into the recording studio. Yet it speaks to Bon Iver that despite this new found love all things musical, it remains one of the softest, most sincere releases this year. Ego aside, Vernon just fucking gets it. As here proves here, he can out Dream Pop the Dream Pop-players in one album, with no real practice at is. He remains an idiot-savant for all things hook infused and beautiful. Vernon remains one of the best singers in Indie music: his ability to move effortlessly from a powerful baritone to a charming, if off-kilter, falsetto remains unmatched by any singer in Indie music. This is displayed perfectly in "Minnesota, WI," while the floating guitars of "Holocene" evoke Vernon's criminally over-looked solo album Hazeltons.

I was more than ready slap a 9.5 or even a 10 on this album as it winded down. I was flat out blown away how easily Bon Iver had transitioned from Freak Folk to Dream Pop, and started musing my writings as the song "Beth/Rest" began blasting from my headphones.

I had to pause the record, for I could not stop laughing.

In another absolutely wonderful and wholly misguided effort of the ego, Vernon crapped the bed with "Beth/Rest." The synth will instantly cause you to sing "I can feel it coming in the air tonight..." should be a deadly foreshadowing of the shitstorm that is to come, but when Vernon's auto-tuned moans come groaning over the top of them, it is time to board up the windows and invest in some plastic gloves. It takes serious balls, and frankly a belief that anything you write will be loved automatically, to make a song like "Beth/Rest" and use it as the closing track! It is like Vernon took us on a magical journey we would never forget, only to end at a 65 and over singles bar, complete with slow dancing. No doubt "Beth/Rest" will make it into some High School proms DJ rotation, but for the rest of us this is completely insane and a serious atmosphere killer.

The closing track is a big deal on just about any record, but the way Bon Iver ends is a little inexcusable in my book. This album still has some of the most finely crafted songs of the year, and I would still recommend it to anyone. Just make sure to hit stop before Phil Collins starts his set.

Rating: 8/10

Patti Smith - Horses (1975)

Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine’. Thus opens ‘Gloria’, the opening track from Patti Smith’s seminal debut album Horses. The track itself is actually a cover of a Van Morrison song, originally written for Them, but Smith recreates it – including a reinvention of lyrics to include said opening line – in such an idiosyncratic manner that the song sits quite happily among the rest of the album, well-disguised as a Smith original.

But idiosyncrasy was always one of the main objectives of the then-budding punk movement; a fact which was somewhat forgotten by the better-known English bands after the original rush of ’77. Smith used the lyric as a method of rebellion against the institutionalized religion she felt had been forced upon her; the three-chord progression was the style which came to be known as the ‘punk style’, sure, but by the time the likes of the Sex Pistols attempted to see commercial success past the surprising success of Never Mind The Bollocks, their attempts fell flat – not so much, I believe, due to the lack of another full-length, but more so because the style had had its 15 minutes.

So when the Pistols came stateside, performing just down the road from Patti Smith one night and frontman John ‘Rotten’ Lydon talked about ‘some woman singing about fuckin’ horses’ (or words to that effect), it was evident that they had lost touch with the roots of the movement. The diversity in Smith’s influences is evident throughout this album – for instance, second track ‘Redondo Beach’ takes a bouncy approach akin to reggae, predating ska punk by several years, whereas the first 9-minute epic of the album, ‘Birdland’, is loosely based around a piano ballad throughout.

When she actually becomes violently passionate during a song, therefore, it comes as quite a surprise – the first chorus to ‘Free Money’ comes out of seemingly nowhere, as does the vocal attack when past the introduction to ‘Land’, which for all intents and purposes is the title track. The point is this; although the instrumentation is interesting, sure, the focal point of this album is Smith’s outstanding vocal performance – one which has not since been paralleled in popular music.

This performance demonstrates quite capability the sheer range of Smith’s vocal styles – although upon one’s first listen to the album, one might remember the ‘monkey noises’ during the chorus of ‘Gloria’ and Smith’s tendency to take her pitch sharply upwards at the ends of vocal lines, but equally memorable upon repeated listens are the cavernous vocals utilised in ‘Land’ and the percussive approach used in many verses, which really aids in the appreciation of the quality of the timbre of her voice.

In essence, the variation in this album means that the post-punk genre is here before much of the groundwork of punk itself had been laid down. It may seem strange, a ‘post-‘ genre being spawned before its suffix was fully created, but that is the only way to demonstrate aptly the full level of innovation of this album. This album was, and is, one of a kind. Patti Smith did indeed go on to make more wonderful music with the likes of Radio Ethiopia, but this is by a long shot her best. An absolutely wonderful album.