Justin Vernon, better known as Bon Iver, has been riding the wave of his fantastic debut, self-released in 2007 and subsequently reissued on Jagjaguwar (U.S.) and 4AD (U.K.) last year, for a while now. And why not? For Emma, Forever Ago, conceived and recorded by Vernon during a winter of solitude at a cabin located somewhere in northwestern Wisconsin, was a work of sincere emotional depth and one of the best albums of 2007 (and 2008).
Well, last month, Bon Iver returned with Blood Bank. A number of reviewers have been quick to point out that the material on this new EP doesn’t quite measure up to For Emma, Forever Ago. And they may technically be right, but I still think it’s a somewhat loaded criticism considering the latter’s strength. Most of the songs here don’t fall too far from the fragile folk that marked Bon Iver’s debut, save for “Woods”, an exploration of Imogen Heap-like vocoder acapella (or maybe Vernon is a closet T-Pain fan). It’s also arguable that penultimate track “Babys” pulls a little something from Steve Reich minimalism (think “Music for 18 Musicians” for just piano). But, while “Woods” is no doubt the most interesting endeavor on the new EP, the title track is probably the strongest. Fitting perhaps that the song was originally written for Emma, but ultimately left off because it didn’t “feel right”. It certainly feels right here, opening Blood Bank with a slow crescendo of hushed power that Vernon carries through the rest of the EP.
As much as I’m enjoying Blood Bank, I actually think Bon Iver’s contribution to the recently BNM‘ed Dark Was the Night compilation might be better than any of the tracks on the EP. “Brackett, WI” is a beautiful piece of tortured nostalgia, rising like a hymn to a past you can never return to.