on 24 January 2009
Vocoders: yes or no? The use of such synthesized vocals took a big dip in fashion between its Kraftwerk and ELO heyday and its minor resurgence under the auspices of so-called Chill Out acts such as Air and Bent. However, it is a sound probably most commonly associated these days with urban music - from R'n'B to Hip Hop and Garage - which is why 2008's favourite log-cabin dwelling folk experimentalist Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon) seems an unlikely exponent of this divisive tool. His stunning album, 'For Emma, Forever Ago', was an intimate acoustic album with lo-fi electronic shadings, very rustic, not very bling. But it did use Auto-Tune to thicken and add impressionistic bite to his vocals on some tracks, albeit fairly sparingly - quite unusually for a folk artist (though I anticipate someone contradicting me here). 'In the Woods', one track on his new, stop gap EP 'Blood Bank', is a kind of Auto-Tune a capella, a layer cake of soulful, heavily synthesized - but thematically bucolic - harmonies. It will sound one of two ways, depending on how disposed you are to such textures: either like Craig David ad libbing on a country walk or the work of a bold musical maverick (i.e., not Craig David ad libbing on a country walk). I haven't decided yet.
Setting 'In the Woods' aside, 'Blood Bank' is a low-key four track release, presumably to keep appetites whetted for Vernon's next full-length. The vocals on the eponymous track are throatier, huskier than we're accustomed to from him, with a pleasing hook adding levity to murky production which is finally subsumed in a fog of Jim O'Rourke-esque distortion. 'Beach Baby' is the lilting falsetto ballad that perhaps Vernon is eager to avoid becoming expected to write (lovely though it is) featuring a deliciously offbeat country twang with a Hawaiian accent. Think of Wilco's underrated 'Sky Blue Sky' for clues. The more expansive, experimental 'Babys' drifts on a Philip Glass-esque piano refrain, but doesn't quite engage in the ways it promises to. An interim release rather than a taster of things to come, 'Blood Bank' will satisfy the already won-over - Vocoders and all - but may not convince the unconverted.
on 11 January 2009
Bon Iver has produced a nice little filler for those of us avidly awaiting his next album. Blood bank offers 4 new songs, each quite different. 'Blood bank' could have fitted nicely on the last album, a gentle reverby acoustic number which builds beautifully through the song. 'Beach baby' is a quiet, lightly strummed ode, sung in his high falsetto. 'Babys', recalls Steve Reich/Sufjan Stevens, with simple repetitive figures on piano - a mood piece, with vocals introduced half-way through - sublime. 'Woods' is less interesting perhaps, a beach boys like song sung through synthesisers.
All in all, for the 1st and 3rd songs alone, this is a worthy addition for fans. Bring on the next album!
on 23 January 2010
One of the most lauded albums in State's 2008 poll, For Emma... left many a mouth salivating for more of Justin Vernon's music. Perfectly plugging a gap and keeping interest keen, these four new songs are certainly the most anticipated EP we can remember round these parts recently. Back in late '08 we were treated to a live unveiling of the title track along with `Babys'. While the latter was politely received, `Blood Bank' itself was a glorious punch to the chest, all beefed up compared to the the album, and carrying a beat like a steam train.
Unfortunately, the brawn is missing off this recorded version and it is back to the softly softly approach which served the album so well. It is still however, a fine tune, the story in its lyrics telling a visual tale of blood and inclement weather - and of course being trapped in a car in a snowdrift with a girl. The powerful live version just offered a glimpse of a new, bigger sound and it really suited the singer and the song. `Beach Baby' is very much in the mode of the album songs, but it really suits its quiet shell and the shimmering slide guitar within.
`Babys' is a simple song about how summer make us all want to procreate - and it's repeated high piano notes make it somewhat lullaby-ish though it may be the slight boredom inherent in it that had your reviewer a little dozy. `Woods' is classic EP fare ( it would be hard pushed to fit in anywhere else). It sees Vernon messing with auto-tune (it's not just for Kanye y'know) and it's obviously the release of creative steam. Similar to some of the less successful songs from his earlier Hazletons album, it comes across as self-indulgent and, by the end, annoying. It's quite possible this was the last song he recorded in his For Emma... log cabin. The one that said "go home, your work is done".
An interesting collection of tunes, suited to an EP and definitely playing it not give-the-people-what-they-want safe, which is a plus. There is massive future potential in Bon Iver's sound to spread in many different ways and this is probably the sound of a search rather than anything new and specific being found.
Four new tracks, four new gems. A nice move forward from the album For Emma, yet still one can trace the lineage.
So, without going in to war and peace style verse it's simple to sum this up. One, it's a bargain, second, it;s more beautiful music from Bon Iver, 3, what are you waiting for?
A class act.