Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bon Iver -- Blood Bank

Bon Iver -- Blood Bank (Jagjaguwar)

Jason Vernon had a few more tunes in his arsenal, so this four-song EP is a bit of stop gap while people wait (possibly for a while) for the follow up to For Emma, Forever Ago. The collection gets off to a good start with the title cut. This song would have fit on Emma easily. Vernon doesn’t spend as much time in his upper registered, but his multi-tracked vocals are intent and the acoustic guitar creates the appropriate brooding winter feel that permeated the debut album. Vernon knows how to balance the downbeat guitar chords with a contrasting melodic section that makes this track very gripping. Moreover, the lyrics sketch out a tale of romance kindled at the blood bank. How lovely.

This is followed by “Beach Baby”, which is nothing like the 1974 smash single. Not that this should come as a surprise. This relatively brief tune has a classic folk rock sound. Here, Vernon’s emotional falsetto is in force. This is another example of what make Bon Iver so special -- a blend of backwoods pastoral music mixed with real soul (and often a dash or two of anguish). If anything, this song is a bit short, not really building to anything, in contrast to most of the material on the debut.

Vernon is joined by Mark Paulson on the nylon guitar on “Babys”. The song comes in with a pair of pianos, and the keys chopping up and down in a careening pattern. This song actually builds on what we’ve heard before from Bon Iver, just based on the discordant pianos. They eventually fade and the song is then carried by Vernon’s vocals over very spare accompaniment. Then the pianos eventually come back in and the vocal part is meshed with the pianos. This is the best song on the EP. In a sense, it reminds me of how Portishead, on its last album, got a lot of mileage out of mashing together seemingly disparate sounds.

The EP wraps up with “Woods”, and wasn’t it inevitable that a band that records in the woods would have a song with that title? What was not inevitable is that Vernon would break out the autotuner. I guess what’s good for Kanye West is good for Bon Iver. The vocals are the song, as a second, non-processed vocal works around the main electronic vocal. This is more of a curiosity. The song has a spiritual feel (musically, not lyrically), but doesn’t really go anywhere.

This EP shows that Vernon has more Bon Iver songs in him, and that he is not content to do exactly the same thing over and over. I wonder if he’s back in the woods now working on a follow up.

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