You know when you listen to an album for the first time and you immediately fall in love with it. When you find a song within it that you have to hear again and again and again. Even better is when the album mirrors your life in the moment that you first listen to it. It doesn't happen all the time with a new album but sometimes, after several listens, it does and a verse, a track or even the whole thing becomes the best thing you've heard all year.
None of these things have happened since I began listening to Bon Iver's new self-titled album.
I tried to fully enjoy it when I first got it, about a month ago, devoting my ears to it without any distractions but the first few listens left me cold. A few songs stuck out — "Calgary," "Towers," "Holocene" — but nothing that I felt compelled to repeat after each listen. In fact, there was only one song on which I could have a definite opinion on — the much maligned "Beth/Rest" — while everything else sounded the same to me.
It's not that I don't appreciate Justin Vernon's fearlessness on Bon Iver, a completely original and beautiful album, but I wish I could connect with it. I like the orchestration on songs like "Calgary" and "Towers," both songs offer something different to the moodier and somewhat repetitive pieces like "Hinnon" and "Michicant." Other songs like "Minnesota, WI" sound like an exercise in genre-bending, mixing the banjo with a bit of an R&B groove, it doesn't quite work along with the synth-heavy "Beth/Rest," which sounds like a bad Badalamenti score touched up with jazzy horns.
"Wash." and "Hinnon, TX" are both beautiful melodies that go nowhere. They're impressive for their instrumentation and the use of found sounds but they sound a bit lethargic and are hardly memorable.
"Holocene" has grown on me. Its slow-burning rhythm, building drums and actually audible lyrics create a tension-filled listening experience. "Towers" though is my favorite song on the album, starting with the strum of a guitar and Vernon's voice, the synthesizer is restrained as drums kick off a momentum that sounds joyous.
Hardly the album of the year but definitely a keeper.