Justin Vernon writes music that evokes frozen times. For Emma, Forever Ago, his debut under the pseudonym Bon Iver, built a snowy-peaked mountain of hype and acclaim in 2008. Vernon, with his scruffy beard and haunting falsetto, showed up, comfortably sitting on late night talk show stages and best-of-the-year lists. Now, in the midst of the chilliest times of 2009, Bon Iver has released the Blood Bank EP, which will keep Bon Iver’s brand of stirring, soothing folk wafting through the frigid winter air for another year. Thank goodness.
The EP opens with a short pause, but then the warm coating of strummed guitars and the soft sadness of Vernon’s voice emerge, ensuring that this is a Bon Iver song. But, then, the first surprise. Vernon’s gentle vocals expand. His familiar falsetto stretches to his fully formed voice, crafting a sturdy, only slightly raspy, sound that fills the title track with fervor.
“Beach Baby” strips away the heavy layers found in the first track. The fervor is replaced with a softer intensity. Vernon’s melancholy falsetto returns, backed by a sweet steel guitar. It ends abruptly and with its end arrives the pounding piano of “Babys,” which startles the listener in a state of unconscious tranquility.
“Woods” is the most staggering song on the Blood Bank EP. Vernon, known as the guy who made his debut album in the woods of Wisconsin, creates a complicated, distorted landscape solely constructed from digitally altered Vernon vocals. It starts with one of Vernon’s voices, plaintively singing a series of four lines: “I’m up in the woods/I’m down on my mind/I’m building a still/To slow down the time.” The song builds, voices entering, simultaneously singing these minimal lyrics. The swirling voices croon, shriek, sing and groan, creating an exciting storm of sensations. Goosebumps ensue.
The Blood Bank EP is a comforting soundtrack for an isolated winter. A pair of headphones and this collection of songs can bring warmth during any snowstorm.
(Album cover from barnesandnoble.com)