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Blood on the log-cabin floor (7/10),
This review is from: Blood Bank (Audio CD)
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.