The Just Played Verdict: Bon Iver–‘Bon Iver’

The weight of expectation is a curious beast. Sometimes it can work in your favour: Ian McEwan‘s lightweight ‘Amsterdam‘ getting plaudits after the failure to duly reward the majesty of ‘Enduring Love’, ‘Be Here Now‘ getting five star reviews after lukewarm responses to ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?‘ On other occasions it can leave with you no chance: most Radiohead albums since 2000 and the tiresome ‘is it as good as OK Computer or Kid A‘ comparisons. And then there are those who think "fuck it, people will give this a chance because of the last one" and crack on, doing their own thing. And while Justin Vernon doesn’t suddenly unleash a new line in scatting jazz vocals here, ‘Bon Iver’ is quite pointedly not ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ part two.

bon iver

Exactly what it is, is another matter. It’s a pretty record, blessed with all sorts of sonic smuggery which charmed me from the off, and it’s an album which sounds curiously out of time. Which is not to say it is timeless, far from it in fact. ‘Bon Iver’ sounds pointedly dated at certain moments, not least on album closer ‘Beth/Rest’, which has predictably provoked buckets of wrath for its Eighties soft-rock tones. While there are undeniably contemporary references here and there, it has the feeling of a moderately successful record of old, its beauty shining through despite the particular clothes of the time it has come from. Think ‘Punch The Clock’ by Elvis Costello, an album which was unmistakably made in the Eighties but which still stands tall thirty years on, thanks to the quality of its songwriting. I’m still not sure what particular artistic statement Vernon might be making by evoking middle of the road pop-rock schlock of old, but it’s not the enormo-howler some would have you believe. It’s more ‘Yuko & Hiro’ than ‘S.Y.M.M.‘ as end of album curveballs go.

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The Just Played Verdict: Iron & Wine ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’

Iron & Wine’s ‘Passing Afternoon’ is quite possibly one of the most delicately constructed songs ever made, containing the lyric which brought about the name of its parent album, “there are things that drift away, like our endless numbered days.” Plaintive piano keeps time as gentle guitar lines provide subtle accompaniment to Sam Beam’s beautiful vocal. Nick Hornby once described Teenage Fanclub’s superlative record ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ as “the next best comfort food you can buy if you’ve already got ‘Rubber Soul’.” To that list you could arguably add that pristine album.


Things took a curious turn with 2007’s ‘The Shepherd’s Dog’, which pushed and pulled in different directions as Beam attempted to simultaneously explore and muddy his signature sound. Whilst it broke fewer hearts than its predecessor, it pointed the way to an intriguing future. But things have been quiet since, save for the excellent odds and sods collection, ‘Around The Well’, which only served to remind the listening public of the more sparse songs of old. Continue reading “The Just Played Verdict: Iron & Wine ‘Kiss Each Other Clean’”