Once upon a time, Justin Vernon was suffering from romantic woes and a bout with mononucleosis. Since everyone knows the best cure for these two combined ailments is to coup yourself up in a cabin for three months writing an album that lays bare such gut-wrenching trauma this is what he did, and damn was it good. Good enough to make a generation of pasty indie types with troubles of their own to fall head over heels for him. Hell, a 14-year old even managed to launch herself a music career with her own cover of ‘Skinny Love’.
Now the Bon Iver project has been expanded to a troupe of lovelorn sods and they’ve been handed the unenviable task of following up that skeletal cult classic. If ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ was fragile enough slip through your fingers, ‘Bon Iver’ is just about sturdy enough to offer a great big bear hug to. As ever, Vernon’s fragile falsetto is tough to permeate with any sort of understanding but he still sounds like someone has stabbed him in the gut with a particularly sharp Valentine’s Day card so sympathetic is the tone we’ll go for.
Since little seems to have changed with Vernon’s general demeanour, his output on ‘Bon Iver’ is really just a strengthened version of that magnificent debut. ‘Calgary’ bristles with some brittle synth, ‘Minnesota, WI’ adds a set of lumbering drums to the familiar sound of reverb-laden guitar and ‘Michicant’ perfects those layered, mourning harmonies that travelled so well from their lonely origins in snowy Northwestern Wisconsin. Only ‘Beth/Rest’ is a curveball, coming straight out of the Lionel Richie songbook, 80s powerhouse period not late 00s Akon collaborations slump. It’s a bizarre auto-tuned choice to top off the album but one which proves strangely anthemic after a couple of spins. In other words, it’s the one you’ll blub most to should you ever listen to ‘Bon Iver’ in a weakened state.
And weep you shall because this second effort is every bit as overwhelming as its predecessor. In a remarkable twist of fate, Justin Vernon has proved he has the chops to make the world fall for him twice. Turns out he’s a bit of a lothario after all.