The morning I almost died at sea in Croatia was spent listening exclusively to Bon Iver. We woke up and the boat was rocking wildly like one of the more realistic scenes from Titanic. Having moved ourselves above deck to avoid the fumes of the engine, we were now dangerously close to having an extended make-out session with the crystal blue waters of the Dalmatian coast. It wasn’t that the waves were particularly big – indeed, when we managed to stagger out quickly to find the source of the swaying, it seemed like we were the sugar cube in a particularly potent teacup storm. But despite this, we seemed destined to capsize. That’s when I discovered that sometimes it’s the smallest changes that can have the most fantastic consequences. Just like for Bon Iver.
I’m not proud to say that I stole Justin Vernon’s new record online, but given that my only source of music was nicked on the plane ride over here, I feel he may have been touched by the thought of me desperately trying to rip his tunes to an unresponsive iPhone using heisted hostel Internet. As soon as my sailor’s quarters started leaning at a 45 degree angle with the ocean, I knew I wanted to listen to the whole thing in full. Album No 2 was apparently a difficult one to write for Vernon, dazzled by the unexpected accolades for his debut and public adoration as a result of offering one of his best hooks to Kanye, he reportedly suffered from writer’s block. If this is the break-through moment, listeners are all the better for it.
‘Towers’ shows Vernon accepting that all the sonic elements he loved in other musical works could also be a part of his own. The unabashedly clean production, classic 80s ballad riffs and that glorious brass all converge to make the kind of thing that you’d be happy to be hearing if you were on oceanic death row. The swaying became even more violent and, even over the ascending strings, I could detect panic coming from the other cabins. Strangely for someone who kvetches about almost everything, I was entirely at peace. Maybe its that double-tracked vocal that I’ve always had a soft spot for in the vein of neo-soul pioneers like D’Angelo (for a skinny white boy, Bon Iver is surprisingly black). Perhaps its the lush instrumentation that recalls the work of some of his side projects, most notably . Whatever the case, Vernon will eventually have his status confirmed as one of the pre-eminent songwriters of my generation, and his new Sufjan Stevens-esque thematic brassiness only confirms this fact in my mind. Everyone can do folk these days, but nobody can outperform the man who knows how to make big ripples out of little gestures. I’m glad I lived to drown in this sound.
Sent from J’s iPhone, somewhere off the coast of Croatia
Bon Iver – ‘Towers’