Thursday, January 22, 2009

Blood Bank - Bon Iver

Blood Bank

Bon Iver
Jagjaguwar Records.

SCQ Rating: 76%

I avoided For Emma, Forever Ago for the entirety of 2008, moving from casually interested to critically overwhelmed. Between its personal significance for so many people and its overexposed backstory (man records in rural Wisconsin cottage for three months, man has hit album, I get it), I felt there was little remaining room for honest discovery. Even with Blood Bank, a stop-gap EP of old and new songs ready to ride Justin Vernon’s year-end success through 2009, I was unconsciously prepared to ditch any interest in his young career. ‘Blood Bank’ changed all that. I stumbled upon it Sunday morning and throughout its near five minutes stared vacantly at the flurried sky, knowing it’s undoubtedly my first great song of the year. Faint cymbals tremble behind Vernon’s three-chord strum, which crawls like a train over rusted rails, screeching harmonic feedback toward the song’s demise. That dull-knife electric is sharpened by Vernon’s voice – straightforward like Springsteen but carrying the weight of its lyrics like a cross – and words, which offer read-it-again storytelling at its best.

Beyond that title track, Blood Bank’s best arsenal is perhaps variety; something that For Emma, Forever Ago sidestepped on purpose and this four-song set chances at every turn. ‘Babys’ opens with an outbreak of heavenly piano codas that rise in volume, shift keys, build momentum and are suddenly swept up in echo to usher Vernon’s soul vocals. When the piano revs up again alongside one rapid-strummed guitar, Bon Iver sounds capable of melting every icicle of his well-documented isolation and breaking free. It’s a moment of awareness that succumbs to silence once more, however, as ‘Woods’ finds Vernon acapella, endlessly repeating:

“I’m up in the woods
I’m down on my mind
I’m building a still
to slow down the time.”

Despite being released right in time to join the Kanye West auto-tune debate, ‘Woods’ creates a “still” to leave off on; an affecting assemblage of one man’s vocal emotion, isolated but communicative among its layers, which gradually slows his energy to silence. Blood Bank accomplishes as much, providing fans of his debut with new dimensions to his songwriting and proving that For Emma…’s wide appeal was no fluke. Although nothing strikes us as feverishly as its title track, Blood Bank is – with any luck - a curiously stitched prologue of things to come.

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