Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Bon Iver – Calgary

80s soundtrack soft-rock revival starts (and probably ends) right here!


Anthony Easton: I never got Bon Iver until Kanye, and I never got Calgary, though I have spent weeks off and on there, once or twice a year since I was born. Less now that I live in Toronto, but I went last year, and will go again next year. Calgary is a lot like Dallas — lots of oil money, lots of flash and bang, not a lot of culture, and intensely lonely. I don’t think that I have ever had a good time in Calgary, only ever got laid by boys I brought down with me. So we get this song, processed to pieces, not quite looking or sounding like the previous Bon Iver and it’s intensely, heartbreakingly lonely — but lonely not because it reminds me of some western culture’s nostalgic attempts to reclaim “our western heritage” (as the statue in the airport tells us to do) but because there is no place to break into it. The song is as hermetic as the city.

Kat Stevens: Pleasant, floaty, unmemorable. That’s not going to cut it in this age of short attention spans and 140 characters! What dude needs to do is punt himself out on a car advert or a sponsorship deal or something… you know, like that Moby fellow. To make slogan writing easier, perhaps Bon Iver could be the face of UK Bonving?

Alfred Soto: Limpid melancholy sung through a tremulous larynx brings out the Khmer Rouge in me, but this sad sack’s latest has some charms: the opening synth line evoking the Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring,” and the tempo change and ugly guitar in the last half bring the reality his platonic moaning too often avoids.

Michelle Myers: I actually prefer Justin Vernon’s wishy-washy falsetto when it is buried in layers of 1980s soft-rock sounds.

Jer Fairall: Can we now start calling 2011 “The Year Soft Rock Broke?” When Dan Bejar indulges in this kind of pastel haze, though, it is like exactly that: an indulgence of an artist who’ll be on to the next thing the moment his erratic muse takes him elsewhere. Justin Vernon plays it far more straight-faced yet the effect is far more amusing. For an artist who built his credibility though a 60s-style back-to-the-earth hippie naturalism to now dabble in 80s-style studio-honed schmaltz feels like a sly acknowledgement of the route that so many of the surviving baby boomer rock idols took through the latter decade, though I doubt that Vernon had any such satirical intent in mind.

Michaela Drapes: The frustrating thing about Justin Vernon is that he’s a pretty good songwriter, a compelling performer, and an obviously smart guy — but I think he’s gotten a bit lost in a fog of nostalgia lately. Look, if I wanted to listen to Coldplay (Travis?) songs done through a Peter Cetera/Steve Winwood/Phil Collins/Bruce Hornsby filter, I would. But the fact is, I just don’t. I’m sure this is charming for people who didn’t live through mid/late 80’s big production mainstream pop the first time around. And as much as I loved that (I did! I really did!) — I can’t help but think: Ugh, too soon!

Sally O’Rourke: Starts off like Enya without the Celtic mysticism, then turns into Peter Gabriel without the hooks.

Jonathan Bradley: Justin Vernon’s new adventures in hi-fi have blacked out the stretches of empty space he used to such excellent effect on For Emma, Forever Ago, but the keys he’s substituted have an airy beauty of their own. Rather than create thatch against which his mellifluous voice can stand in contrast, Vernon now allows his arrangements to enrich his vocal, and vice-versa. This approach risks eroding interesting ideas into formless foam, but “Calgary” mostly resists that fate, though its ethereal wash lacks the unexpected brutality of his best songs. The nearest it comes to transcendence is when Vernon works himself up to a scribbled-over tantrum on the lines “It’s storming on the lake/Little waves our bodies break.” He’s been known to make such vagaries seem like they mean much more.

3 Responses to “Bon Iver – Calgary”

  1. Ugh, I’ve been trying to place that synth line for weeks. Being Boring — of course! I’m so slow sometimes. Thank you, Alfred.

  2. Best photo ever!

  3. To me, this sounds like it could have been a track off The Clientele’s Suburban Light, which is a good thing!