Bon Iver - Blood Bank EP (Jagjaguwar Records; released January 20th, 2009)
Wisconsin-born and French-named Bon Iver is back with a much less whispered affair, I think Justin Vernon has really found his voice and has gained a ton of confidence, rounding out his sound by adding more instrumentation on this four song affair. I don't know if I need to make any apologies for my exclusion of Mr. Vernon's For Emma, Forever Ago album off of last year's top 20 list; I'll re-iterate again that (to me) it's an '07 release- so that's where it ended up. I played that record a lot over the ultra-cold trip back east that winter and something clicked in me; that's exactly what that album was trying to convey- warmth. Recorded in a remote cabin in the Wisconsin woods the previous winter, it's no wonder it has that feel to it.
Blood Bank is a step past that- it definitely has a more intense warmth to it, like a refined and steady glow or a toastiness like you've been in from the cold for a while; cup of hot chocolate, wool socks up by the hearth- that's what it feels like to me. The title track was a throwaway from the last album, and I can see why it didn't work. Where the majority of those tracks were just Vernon with falsetto-whispered vocals/guitars/foot stomps/hurdy gurdys/cold winter winds/ethereal magic, this song is much sparser and stripped down, it doesn't need to blow into its cupped hands for warmth; it already emanates heat from within.
And there's no chorus or bridge- it's just a progression over and over as Bon Iver relates a story of donating blood, where sustenance can be gathered afterwards in the form of juice boxes, cookies and a make-out session in the parking lot. That'd certainly do it for me... Beach Baby has a lovely little pedal steel guitar line towards the back of the track; again- "beach" denotes warmth, etc. Clearly this is foretelling of Bon Iver's direction with his new material, obviously he's going to do a "summer" album. After Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, this may just be the year of the "summer jam"...
Babys is a piano-laced track that builds towards a bridge section, then barrels on to a crescendo of a release- it's basically a two-note cycle over and over with double-tracked vocals and a heartily strummed acoustic guitar into a flaccid coda. The final track, Woods gets on the auto-tune bandwagon; but strangely; it works- a lot like that Imogen Heap track (Hide And Seek) from a few years ago, endearing instead of annoying.
So there's your pre-cursor to Bon Iver's much anticipated second full-length album, I'm thinking it'll get great reviews again, so let this serve as one of the first...
Wisconsin, iTunes bonus track from For Emma, Forever Ago:
Wisconsin - Bon Iver