Trackpacking: Bon Iver

by Keith Savage · 14 comments

Bon Iver in Concert

Trackpacking is a recurring series highlighting musicians that inspire me to travel.

For the last year and a half, the Trackpacking series has focused on musicians that inspire me to travel. Today, I’m highlighting an artist who reminds me of home, whose sounds somehow conjure the ice-limned window panes and silent white pine forests of Wisconsin winters.

Bon Iver, a purposeful misspelling of “good winter” in French, is the project of Justin Vernon, a man the same age as me who went to high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, just 90 minutes north of where I went to high school. Living in western Wisconsin during my adolescence was a difficult time, all country music and shining and chewing tobacco at the gas station. It wasn’t my scene – I didn’t do those things – and listening to Bon Iver, I suspect Justin didn’t either.

Bon Iver came into my musical solar system courtesy of my brother-in-law, Alex. He handed me Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, and plunged into describing – not the music – but the method in which it was written and recorded. Pockets empty, broken-hearted, and winding down with illness, Justin retreated to his father’s cabin in Wisconsin’s northwoods where shin-deep snow, piles of wood, space heaters, and hard lakes were his most frequent companions. This melancholy isolation emanates from For Emma‘s introverted songs like vapors off a sun-splashed and frozen roof.

The music is a warm embrace largely composed of melodic, spare guitars and Vernon’s distinctive falsetto with the occasional electronic flourish. At first listen, Bon Iver’s music, though beautiful, sounds straightforward and simple, but repeated listens reveal layers of subtle instrumentation, from synthesizers to electric guitars to brass. Shining throughout is Vernon’s deft and vulnerable vocals. His newfound falsetto is most prevalent, but he doesn’t shy away from exploring his range and that’s when the songs get really interesting.

Bon Iver

Yesterday, Bon Iver’s eponymous album was officially released. There was a lot of fretting among fans and critics that Justin wouldn’t be able to reproduce the same sincerity of his debut – after all, the story of For Emma is inimitable. With Bon Iver, Justin Vernon has washed away all of the worry and taken a large stride toward cementing his name among Wisconsin’s great musicians: Steve Miller, Les Paul, Willy Porter, and Butch Vig to name a handful.

Catch Bon Iver on tour this summer and buy your tickets soon. I waited too long and now his Milwaukee shows are sold out. Fail.

Pack These Tracks

For the three tracks from Bon Iver, the links lead to the same site where the album is streaming.

Create a Moment with Bon Iver

  • Dawn and dusk, Bon Iver is perfect weak-light music.
  • Headphones in place, walk your winter streets.
  • Fill your getaway vacation rental with Bon Iver’s sounds as you relax with something warming.

What music reminds you of a home?

Original photos by minifig and leah pritchard via Flickr under Creative Commons

JodiNo Gravatar June 29, 2011 at 8:58 AM

I was worried picking up the new Bon Iver album, given how attached I still am to Emma but it has proven to be an excellent listen, without taking away from the beauty of his former masterpiece. Do you like Cinematic Orchestra? I’ve been a fan for years and I think you’d enjoy if you haven’t yet given them a listen.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 29, 2011 at 9:15 AM

I completely understand your hesitation with the new album – I felt the same. Thankfully, Justin didn’t disappoint with this new one.

I listen to Cinematic Orchestra fairly frequently and I really like them. One of my friends recommended them to me a few years ago and they’ve found a regular slot on my playlists. Good taste, Jodi!


JodiNo Gravatar June 29, 2011 at 10:49 AM

Yay! Thanks. A few years back there was a joint Jazzfest concert of Cinematic Orchestra and The Gotan Project – awesome show. Would welcome suggestions in the same genre if you have’em – always looking to expand what I’m listening to. Been hooked on Patrick Watson too (also from Montreal) – v. similar to Bon Iver.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 29, 2011 at 11:27 AM

I don’t have much jazz in my library, but you might like collaborations between Steve Reid and Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet). Isn’t The Gotan Project tango?


JoAnnaNo Gravatar June 27, 2011 at 11:25 AM

Thanks for the Justin Vernon love. More people need to know about him!


Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 27, 2011 at 11:47 AM

This one’s for you! 🙂


StephanieNo Gravatar June 25, 2011 at 12:36 AM

Interesting, this is the third reference I have seen/heard to Bon Iver in the last week. He was featured on All Things Considered and has a page in July’s Vanity Fair. I assume it’s due to the new album. I have only heard a little of his music, not sure it’s my thing. But I’m happy to support another Wisconsinite.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 25, 2011 at 1:31 PM

He’s everywhere right now because his new album dropped this past Tuesday. He deserves all the adulation and critical praise. His music is great, I personally love it, and he reps Wisconsin.


KymNo Gravatar June 24, 2011 at 12:41 PM

love that you highlighted bon iver. holocene kills me. i debated flying to phoenix to catch him with fleet foxes and the walkmen, but i might just wait it out and go see him in brooklyn instead.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 24, 2011 at 12:47 PM

I heard about that show – it would have been amazing to see Bon Iver with Fleet Foxes. Holocene might be my favorite track of the new album. Touching.


JennaNo Gravatar June 24, 2011 at 12:36 AM

I went to high school for 2 years in South Dakota, most of my family is from Iowa, and I went to college in Minnesota, so I smiled while reading about your difficulty relating to the tobacco chewing while hanging out at the town gas station. Even though I loved some of the places in Iowa and MN, that image was a total flashback to living in SD for me. I listen to Bon Iver every day, and as you mentioned, the story of their first album really adds something to the music. I’m glad to find out that they’ll be on tour– I’ll have to see if my area’s on the list.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 24, 2011 at 8:59 AM

Looks like I won’t be able to see them live, but if their late show performances are any indication of their live prowess it should an awesome concert.


Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar June 23, 2011 at 2:37 PM

I am a huge fan of Bon Iver, relived to know he can still produce music goodness. 🙂 The song that makes me think of home the most is a 54-40 tune (very old) called, I Go Blind. It’s not dripping with Vancouver lyrics, but they are a local band and remember walking down Commercial on a sunny day listening to that tune.


Keith SavageNo Gravatar June 24, 2011 at 8:58 AM

I’m somewhat relieved as well that he delivered such an excellent album. You can help but worry that it was the particular scenario of For Emma that helped it achieve such greatness. Worry is interest paid before its due though.

Can’t say I’ve heard I Go Blind, but I like how it’s tied to Vancouver for you.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: