Thursday, June 13th, 2019

Bon Iver – Hey, Ma

If nothing lasts forever (particularly not late 2000s indie), then what makes, then what makes, then what makes, then what makes Bon Iver the exception?


Alfred Soto: He can’t resist sounding like Rostam Batmanglij-produced Chicago, as usual.

Tim de Reuse: Is it cryptic or just convoluted? Is there something hiding in the line “You’re back and forth with light” that might be uncovered with analysis or is it just a gibberish vessel for Bon Iver’s faux-authentic over-enunciation? Is there some angle you can take where this actually has something specific to say, or is its appeal entirely dependent on the listener projecting their own nostalgic mush onto an empty frame of a soundscape? How many more interesting songs might you be able to listen to in the time it’d take to answer these questions?

Will Adams: In which Justin Vernon gets his 808s & Heartbreak on: pinging synth resembling a heart monitor, distorted vocal brooding, reverence for Mom. He’s still got a way with lush arrangements, but there’s not much that his previous two records don’t already offer.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Bon Iver’s strongest asset has always been Justin Vernon’s ability to write toplines. Crucially, his lyrics were always evocative because of careful consideration for phonology and its coupling with decent melodies. The lyrics, consequently, always benefited from being obtuse because they drew less attention to what they were saying than how they were said. As such, any wordless passage would feel like a successful extension of those that contained vocals. All of this is still absolutely true with “Hey, Ma,” particularly with the slightly haunting instrumental bridge that feels like a melancholy extension of the song’s nostalgic longing. Despite this, it’s hard to get too excited when 22, A Million saw Bon Iver exploring far more adventurous sounds. A part of my disinterest is that Bon Iver’s influence has been unavoidable this past decade, and for them to retreat into more straightforward territories doesn’t make for an exciting lead single.

Joshua Copperman: Justin Vernon’s bro-hugging tendencies were forgivable in 2014, even in 2016 when they were blended with Francis & The Lights’ goofiness in “Friends.” With his vocals so high in this mix (BJ Burton returns to produce and mix with Zach Hansen), they are now unavoidable even though they’ve also never been worse. Despite a gorgeous melody and Burton’s warm production, the lyrics are distractingly dumb. Even the one interesting idea – “you talk your money up/while it’s living in a coal mine” – is apparently just a pun on a meaningless album title. “Hey, Ma” clearly has a lot of effort put into it, and the song manages to wring emotions out by the end, but it’s hard to want to be absorbed when the messages are so uninspired. 

Leah Isobel: Jackson Maine yelps over Cut 4 Me beats. Nice harmonies, though.

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2 Responses to “Bon Iver – Hey, Ma”

  1. this subhead omg

  2. The subhead is exceptional. The song…. reminds me that I suspect I’m a 22, A Million fan as opposed to a Bon Iver fan.

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