Vernon’s ‘Bon Iver’ is transcendent

(Gaye Gerard/Getty Images)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / June 21, 2011

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The story of how it was made was one of the selling points of Bon Iver’s self-released 2007 debut, “For Emma, Forever Ago.’’ It went like this: Justin Vernon retreated to a cabin in Wisconsin one winter and emerged with an album that was so intense, it sounded like he never meant to share it with anyone.

“Emma’’ was gorgeous in its austerity, but its follow-up is staggering for its vision. Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore release will go down as one of this year’s most arresting albums, drunk on its own impressionistic charms and oblivious to anyone’s expectations but Vernon’s.

“Bon Iver’’ takes chances. Vernon’s signature falsetto croon is intact, but he couches it in a nest of disorienting sounds. A celestial choir lingers in the background on “Perth,’’ pierced by stray snippets of marching-band drums and metallic electric guitars. With its synthesized piano and silky saxophone, “Beth/Rest’’ could have been an outtake from his work with Gayngs, the soft-rock supergroup Vernon contributed to last year.

Given the music’s transcendence, it’s strange that the songwriting is so stridently obtuse, sometimes to the point of keeping you at bay. Behold this tangle from “Minnesota, WI’’: “Armour let it through / Borne the arboretic truth you kept posing / Sat down in the suit / Fixed on up it wasn’t you by finished closing.’’

When you hear Vernon sing those lines, though, you realize their beauty lies in the rhythm of the language, the way the words unfurl like poetry. So much of “Bon Iver’’ strikes a similar chord — just beyond your grasp but intoxicating nonetheless. (Out today)

ESSENTIAL “Holocene’’

Bon Iver performs at the House of Blues on Aug. 5.