Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bon Iver - Bon Iver (2011)

Best Song: Holocene

Credit where credit is due – the self-titled is not a retread of For Emma. Justin Vernon recruited bandmates and turned Bon Iver into an actual band. For better or worse, they predictably went in a folk-pop direction, but unpredictably decided to produce Bon Iver to sound more or less like 80's adult contemporary music. You can call it whatever you want, but it definitely qualifies as artistic...movement. I don't know if “progression” is entirely the right word.

It's also terrible. Bon Iver doesn't suck like For Emma did – it sucks in new and interesting ways. The songwriting and production decisions here mean the sound is much more varied and less monotonous than on the debut, but it also means that half the songs make me want to vomit, as they're drenched in 80's puke-synths, reverb, and frighteningly generic saxophone sections. These sections and songs are uncomfortably married with banjos, pedal steel, and slide guitar, forming a fusion created in the bowels of hell by Satan himself, who gave it to Bon Iver, because even he's not cruel enough to unleash it upon the world. I've never heard an album quite like this one, and I hope that I never do again.

It's shockingly not all bad. When they cut down on the horrible keyboards and saxes, some beauty does occasionally come through. There's even a song I like on here! “Holocene” is actually both quite beautiful and quite memorable. Of course, it goes on too long, because God forbid there be something from the mind of Justin Vernon I can enjoy without criticizing, but it's enjoyable, and that nagging acoustic guitar line and lovely “I can see for miles, miles, miles” refrain are alright in my book.

There are a few more songs that are decent, so let's talk about them as well before we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. I'm actually ok with the opening “Perth” - it's not as beautiful as it thinks it is, and Justin Vernon's falsetto is still annoying, but I like the slide guitar and the martial rhythms, so while I'll never listen to it again, it can stick around. “Towers” is an altogether decent, unadorned folk-pop song that sounds like a lesser Fleet Foxes number or something, if Robin Pecknold inhaled a bunch of helium.

“Minnesota, WI” has that nice “never gonna break” refrain, and the rest doesn't offend me, although it's not very memorable. And finally, “Calgary” starts off like I'm going to hate it, with those ear-bleeding synths kicking things off, but they go away pretty quickly, and there's nice buildup of tension followed by the song circling back around to the beginning, but with guitars playing the part the keyboards played. That's quite psychologically satisfying.

The rest is some of the most offensively bad material I've ever had the displeasure of hearing. “Michicant” starts off alright, but then the generic adult-contemporary synths and the squishy drum sound kick in, and by the time the inevitable sax part comes along, I'm ready to hurl. It's like a slow build up of horror, but completely unintentional. The following “Hinnom, TX” is so drenched in reverb, I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to be listening to, but I can tell you that every solitary second of it sounds gross. “Wash” appears to be some sort of social experiment in how long the average person can listen to the same two piano notes repeated over and over again before indicting Bon Iver for breach of social contract, and “Lisbon, OH” is a 90 second synth instrumental that's just as bad as it sounds.

Ok, what in the actual fuck is “Beth/Rest”?! No, seriously, what am I hearing?? It's...it's like, layers of 80's puke synths that somehow sound worse than all of the others on the album. On top of all of this is Justin Vernon's voice auto-tuned (?!) to sound like a God damn robot. And, if that wasn't enough, a saxophone arrangement that would make even Kenny G vomit in disgust. And it's 5 minutes long. Am I being trolled? Is Bon Iver trolling me? Because “Beth/Rest” is so offensively horrible, it's almost funny. Almost. This is by far the worst song in my entire collection, and might very well be the worst song I've ever heard in my life. I'm not even using hyperbole here – I legitimately cannot think of a worse song, and I've heard a lot of music. Oh, and fuck you to the guy on Youtube who pointed out that “Beth/Rest” kind of sounds like the Super Mario 64 Underwater theme. Now I can basically never play one of my favorite games ever again.

...Ok, that time I was using hyperbole.

Honestly, “Beth/Rest” leaves such a bad taste in my mouth, I'm tempted to give Bon Iver the worst possible grade just on principle, but that wouldn't really be fair. I guess. So “Holocene” is a pretty good song, and a couple of the others are kinda halfway decent, but the album on the whole is just such a bad combination of ideas, it ends up being incredibly disgusting, and I feel like I need a shower just from hearing it. I used to like it better than For Emma for the good material at the beginning, but I don't know anymore. It's an album that's only gotten worse every time I've listened to it. The “pretty good”ness of “Holocene” and the inoffensiveness of some other tracks is nowhere near enough to counterbalance the bad material, including the worst damn song ever written. I don't know what to do with this, so I'll just go with my gut. Get “Holocene” if you want to hear the only good Bon Iver song. You know what to do with the rest.

Rating: 5/15

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