Friday, July 1, 2011

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

My cubicle at work sits across from the area printer. It’s less than six months old and it’s always breaking down, so I’m accustomed to people opening up the compartment doors in frustration, following the “remove paper jam” instructions on the LCD screen, sighing in frustration while we wait for the repairman to fix the issue on this $25,000 piece of shit.

Last week, a co-worker was waiting for his print job and he walked over to me while listening to his iPod. He knows I’m a music fanatic, so he approached me to show the album cover image on what he was listening to.

It was the new Bon Iver album and he was about seven tracks into the new release.

“Have you heard this yet?” he asked.

“Not yet, but I’ve heard it’s really good. How is it?”

“Dude, it’s awesome. I just downloaded it over lunch.” He offered.

“Yeah, I noticed that it’s been getting good reviews.” I replied back, stopping short of mentioning that Bon Iver was on my list of current releases that I’d planned on reviewing.

I try not to talk too much about what I do in my off-work time. It just sounds like I’m pimping my efforts, and history has taught me that when I start talking about music, I usually reach a dead end of pointless references or trivial information that only lead to clouded stares and the obedient nodding of people pretending they understand me.

Like when I suggested to this co-worker that, if he liked Bon Iver, he should check out the new Fleet Foxes album.

I knew that after the acknowledging “Oh yeah?” and after the quick walk back to his cubicle, the recommendation would be all but forgotten.

After hearing Bon Iver for the first time after that workplace encounter, I wonder if the same would be true for that co-worker. Would the record be held in such high esteem a few years from now, or would it-like I’m starting to believe after a few spins of it-simply be forgotten in the collected masterpiece pile next to Cookie Mountain, Contra, or any number of recently praised efforts.

Look, I’m guilty of it as the next reviewer and I’ll admit that there may be highly marked reviews from yours truly that will be forgotten in years to come. But I review these efforts on the way that I feel, not on what you or Pitchfork or anyone else thinks. And I can’t see many people giving two-shits about Bon Iver in a few years from now.

It’s certainly striking a chord with people now, and I can somewhat understand it. There is a unique mood throughout Justin Vernon’s second album and it’s projected with such confidence that you can help but think Vernon himself feels Bon Iver has a certain amount of significance.

Briefly, at least for the first few songs, I was resigned in believing that maybe he and everyone else was right.

But as the album progressed, the magic faded. What started as an overly layered attempt at maturation turns into a forgettable collection of songs with limited bits of melody. It’s a shame in a way, as the opener “Perth” is such a wonderful song that it sets the bar so high for the rest of the record.

From there, the album slips down, track by track, until the closer “Beth/Rest” not only brings the designation of being the worst song on the record, but it also jeopardizes the record from becoming a complete joke.

The song features mid-80’s Chicago keyboards over dated guitar tones. To ensure that Vernon doesn’t come across as a complete Peter Cetera worshipper, he’s filtered his vocals through a cheesy autotune device.

It’s embarrassing, and it taints the entire effort with a cloud that questions both Vernon’s abilities as a producer and the integrity of his creative muse. I don’t know if this an attempt at being ironic or if he truly appreciates the yacht rock boat he’s steering.

“Beth/Rest” will most certainly create dialogue between those who want to argue its merits and question those who ridicule it to see if it’s their own prejudices that prevent them from admitting its greatness.

To do that, do we have to start revisiting all of those 80’s Chicago albums and Kenny Loggins soundtracks to see if they were indeed more influential than those noisy Sonic Youth records? It’s a ridiculous notion to put the blame on hipster attitude. Those records were bad for a reason, and to suddenly pretend that someone is bold for using similar techniques is a copout in itself.

This was lame music twenty-five years ago and it’s still an embarrassment. And to end an album that has its heart set on becoming both progression from the primitive beginnings of its predecessor and an intentional “masterpiece” is incredibly naive.

I can’t find a correlation between that naïveté and any amount of braveness that the people throwing accolades on this record are managing to find. Instead, all I can hear is the lingering aftertaste of that closing track and any hint of positive recognition that will have me returning to Bon Iver any time soon.

No comments: