Bon Iver's "Calgary" finds Justin Vernon living in a post-Auto-Tune world
|Photo by D.L. Anderson|
"Calgary" finds Justin Vernon in a completely different place than he was when he recorded his introspective, harrowingly intimate breakout album For Emma, Forever Ago, but it's also a clear progression from the work on his 2009 Blood Bank EP -- meaning there are more instruments, more harmonies, and a generally fuller sound, but also that same quiet restraint and underlying sense of reverential somberness that made Bon Iver such a compelling project to begin with.
Vernon is living in a post-Auto-Tune world. It's no mistake that his delicate and understated use of vocal distortion on his Blood Bank track "Woods" was enough of a revelation to catch Kanye West's ear, and "Calgary" employs some of those same understated mutations. Vernon's voice is a beautiful thing when left untouched, as it is at the end of this new track, but it also takes on a mystical quality when it's toyed with, especially when it's done so elegantly and artfully. Even the french horn-sounding intro to "Calgary" sounds synthesized to the point where you can't tell whether its being played by human beings or robots, adding to the surreal quality of the track.
"Calgary" also picks up (subtly, of course) on the retro throwback vibe of one of Vernon's side projects, Gayngs, with the opening dirge sounding a bit like something from The NeverEnding Story and a squiggly, jarring synth part jutting in a few bars later. At first listen, this addition was a little off-putting to my ears, but it eventually blended into the building cacophony of fuzzy guitars and layered voices and didn't stick out for me as much on repeated listenings. I guess I like my Bon Iver more earnest than tongue-in-cheek, but am also curious to see if he'll interject these little curiosities into the rest of the album.
Still no word on a local Bon Iver date (they play their first show in ages on July 22 in Milwaukee), but you can catch them on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon on May 23.