Listening to Bon Iver is truly an escape from reality. Justin Vernon has the listener romanticizing about winters in Wisconsin: all else vanishes as he transports to a log cabin surrounded by an enchanting evergreen forest located in some distant land. The hills go for miles as friendly critters pass along a dirt trail, in sync with the folk tunes.
The Grammy Award-winning Bon Iver sends us into the wild again with their iTunes Session EP, released on June 17. The seven-song EP kicks off with the ‘80s synth ballad “Beth/Rest”, which was streamed in advance of the EP’s release.
“Michicant”, “Holocene”, “Minnesota, WI”, “Hinnom, TX”, and “Wash.”–-all tracks from the 2011 self-titled album—are also included on the EP. The last song is a cover of Bjork’s “Who Is It?”.
Time freezes over in “Holocene.” A simple guitar chord repeats behind Vernon as he coos the chorus, “… and at once I knew I was not magnificent // Strayed above the highway aisle // Jagged vacant, thick without us // I could see for miles, miles, miles”.
“Wash.” paints a white setting, clearing away all sense of self like the waves of a vast ocean. Vernon’s soothing voice floats above the piano’s light melody and string instrument’s highlighting support, leading the listener away from their own mind and into his musical space. “I… we’re sewing up through the latchet greens // I… unpeel keenness, honey, bean for bean // Same white pillar tone with the bone street sand is thrown where she stashed us at // All been living alone, where the cracks at in the low part of the stoning,” Vernon caws over the waves.
That these live recordings are equally as good as—if if not better than—the originals should not astonish anyone. Bon Iver is inherently a band that can strip away the mechanics and audio enhancements and still perform to their full ability. Or rather: Vernon has a voice of silk and his men behind the instruments and synthesizers possess musical talent. Bon Iver stays true to producing quality music no matter the platform.
And indeed, the not unlikely but certainly surprising cover of Bjork’s “Who Is It?” too succeeds as chill in every sense of the word. The saxophones work in harmony with the drums to create an upbeat and danceable track. The original version by Bjork has an eerie vibe, her voice slowly crying out to the listener in piercingly high pitches. Bon Iver picks up the pace and transforms it into a pleasant song that’s easy on the ears. Instead of demanding an answer to “who is it,” Vernon tenderly whispers the question in your ear, teasing you to join him.
Bon Iver has a way of reaching into the dark unknown and touching the deepest part of your being without exuding much conspicuous effort, from the song itself to the heartfelt lyrics within. That’s what makes Bon Iver a quality act live, recorded or in person. The authenticity embedded in every aspect of each track pulls any listener in, asking us to mature along with the band, personally and professionally. Bon Iver will get you where you’re meant to be this summer.
*This review was composed by Sydney Gore and edited by Emily Coch