This Time, He Gives Blood…


Bon Iver
Blood Bank EP
Jagjaguwar
Released: 1.20.09

Rating: 7.25 out of 10

Bon Iver, or Justin Vernon, is no longer in self-imposed solitary confinement.

Last year, Vernon’s debut as Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago, garnered a lot of critical acclaim and public favor, boasting not only a passionate collection of songs but an interesting back story as well. Spending a Wisconsin winter in a cabin? An isolated artist overwhelmed by breakup, recuperating from sickness? Recording it all himself? It writes itself, and it helped that the results were really, really good.

But, as cathartic origins directly affected the height of his creative watermark, Vernon has a lot to live up to for any follow-up. Blood Bank, his new four song EP, seems very aware of the task at hand.

Blood Bank isn’t a complete departure from For Emma but it’s more of an experimental outing, relying more on invention than feeling to drive itself from beginning to end. With only four songs to establish Vernon’s intentions, he’s smartly delivered a forecast that will not only satisfy fans eager for new material, but also better acclimate them to whatever he may be doing next. The quality of his efforts? Different, but not bad.

Opening with the title track, Vernon takes more of an alt-rock approach; barely audible cymbal splash and kick beat thumping the song’s rhythm. Its narrative only breaks for sung reiterations of “I know it well,” the song’s outro building up its sound for a heightened climax. The following song, “Beach Baby,” is the EP’s attempt at not deviating TOO much from For Emma, its solo acoustic self maintaining a degree of isolation and distance via echoing slide guitar embellishments.

The album’s most interesting track, “Babys,” opens in a continuous and heavy flurry of piano keys. “Summer comes…To multiply, to multiply,” Vernon sings before the piano assault drops out, pausing for him to deliver a couple verses in slow, enchanting cries. It’s simple, but effective and probably Vernon’s furthest creative exploration.

His sole slip-up is the EP’s closer, “Woods,” an Auto-Tuned harmonic that is mostly sung a cappella. Though Vernon strives to keep the song soulful, the addition of angelic waves of echoing vocals humanizing its otherwise robotic tongue, “Woods” feels really out of place and its utilization of technology feels trendy. Considering Auto-Tune’s conventional usage amongst the pop elite, and its notable association with Kanye West’s “sung” album, 808s & Heartbreak, it’s become a tired presence in music and has no place on this artist’s record. It was a ballsy choice, but unnecessary.

I wouldn’t call Blood Bank a fully realized effort so much as a teaser or a rough draft. It’s evident that Vernon is expanding his sound, attempting to duplicate his accomplishments while not duplicating the album that brought him notoriety. It’s a solid step in the right direction, but no more Auto-Tune. Please.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead
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