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.
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.
- Flume, from For Emma, Forever Ago.
- Skinny Love, from For Emma, Forever Ago.
- Re: Stacks, from For Emma, Forever Ago.
- Holocene, from Bon Iver.
- Michicant, from Bon Iver.
- Wash., from Bon Iver.
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?