Bon Iver

First it was For Emma, Forever Ago. The soul in a refraction of icicles. A moment hanging like breath on air. And yet life - even still life - is not still. The story is not a story if it does not unravel. Your eyes you may cast backward, but the heart is locked in the chest and must beat forever forward. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the frozen beast pressing upward from a loosening earth, one ear cocked to the echo of the ghost choir still singing, the other craving the martial call of drums tumbling, of thrum and wheeze. The desolation smoke has dissipated, cut with strips of brass. Celebration will not be denied, the cabinet cannot contain the rattle, there is meat on the bones.


It's there right away, in the thicker-stringed guitar and military snare of "Perth," and "Minnesota, WI." Anyone who had a single listen to For Emma will peg Justin Vernon's vocals immediately, but there is a sturdiness - an insistence - to Bon Iver, Bon Iver that allows him to escape the cabin in the woods without burning it to the ground. "Holocene" opens with simple finger-picking. The vocal is regret spun hollow and strung on a wire. Then the snare-beat breaks and drives us forward and up and up until we fly silent through the black-star night, our wreckage in view whole atmospheres below. The vocals in "Hinnom, TX" ease to the muffled depths, while the instrumentation remains sparse and cosmic. "Calgary" is a worship song to everything For Emma mourned, and at the point in the final track "Beth/Rest" when Vernon sings, "I ain't livin' in the dark no more" it is clear he isn't dancing in the sunshine, but rather shading toward a new light.


"Bon Iver is often equated with just me," says Vernon, "but you are who surrounds you, and for Bon Iver, Bon Iver I wanted to invite those voices as musical catalysts." Thus on the track "Beth/Rest" and throughout the album, we hear the pedal steel of Greg Leisz (Lucinda Williams, Bill Frisell), the uniquely layered low end of Colin Stetson's (Tom Waits, Arcade Fire) saxophones, the riffing of Mike Lewis' (Happy Apple, Andrew Bird) altos and tenors, and the lush horns of C.J. Camerieri (Rufus Wainwright, Sufjan Stevens). Bon Iver regulars Sean Carey, Mike Noyce and Matt McCaughan contributed vocals, drums and production, Rob Moose (Antony and the Johnsons, The National) helped with arranging and added strings, and fellow members of Volcano Choir, Jim Schoenecker and Tom Wincek provided processing.


Bon Iver, Bon Iver was recorded and mixed at April Base Studios, a remodeled veterinarian's clinic located in rural Fall Creek, Wisconsin. The main recording space is constructed over a defunct indoor pool attached to the clinic. "It's an unique space and destination; it's our home out here," says Vernon, who purchased the structure with his brother in late 2008 with the sole intention of converting it into his ideal recording studio. "It's been a wonderful freedom, working in a place we built. It's also only three miles from the house I grew up in, and just ten minutes from the bar where my parents met." The creation of Bon Iver, Bon Iver was a three-year process, and Vernon says the completion of the studio paralleled the completion of the album. "I was writing and recording in the windows of time snatched between tours in support of For Emma," he says. "When I finally came home to hunker down for a solid stretch there was a feeling of solid ground and an opportunity for liberation waiting in the space for me."


In the absence of solid ground, the whirlwind becomes a whirlpool, and Bon Iver, Bon Iver is Justin Vernon returning to former haunts with a new spirit. The reprises are there - solitude, quietude, hope and desperation compressed - but always a rhythm arises, a pulse vivified by gratitude and grace notes, some as bright as a bicycle bell. The winter, the legend, has faded to just that, and this is the new momentary present. The icicles have dropped, rising up again as grass.


- Michael Perry

Hiss Golden Messenger

The writing of the songs that became Heart Like a Levee started in a hotel room in Washington, DC , in January of 2015 during a powerful storm that dark- ened the East Coast. At that time I was feeling—more acutely than I had ever felt before—wrenched apart by my responsibilities to my family and to my music. Forgetting, momentarily, that for me, each exists only with the other. How could I forget? Though maybe my lapse was reasonable: I had just quit my job, the most recent and last, in a series of dead-end gigs stretching back 20 years, with the vow that my children would understand their father as a man in love with his world and the inventor of his own days. They would be rare in that regard. And then—driven by monthly bills and pure fear— I left for another tour, carrying a load of guilt that I could just barely lift. But in that snowy ho- tel room I found the refrain that became my compass: I was a dreamer, babe, when I set out on the road; but did I say I could find my way home?

Through the spring and summer, while traveling and when I was off the road and at home in Durham, I wrote about love—the teaching kind and the destroying kind— and about movement, and being moved, really and truly moved. I wrote about our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters—of blood and the road—and how easy it can be to abdicate those responsibilities at the slightest threat of bad weather. I reckoned with things that I couldn’t see, but I could feel; and in so feeling begin to under- stand as real to me and those whom I love. I carried my piece of the fire, or tried to. The heart is a beautiful vessel, prone to failure and breathtaking acts of grace. An impermanent, permeable thing, lovely for its changeabil- ity, blameless for its fallibility. It’s hard to even begin to conceive of how to measure our boundaries. Heart Like a Levee is my taking stock of my universe, my span, my inventory, my leave-taking and return over back roads so blue they look black until the dawn.

Heart Like a Levee was recorded in the fall and winter of 2015. It was produced by myself and Brad Cook, who also played bass. Phil Cook played the piano and organ and guitar, and Matt McCaughan played the drums and percussion. Our friends Alexandra Saus-er-Monnig, Tift Merritt, Michael Lewis, Matt Douglas, Chris Boerner, Josh Kaufman, Ryan Gustafson, Sonyia Turner and Jon Ashley all contributed in important ways that you can read about in the album credits.

I have dedicated every day to song. I have been trav- eling all my life. And I understand that I am so lucky, and I am thankful. Money is easy enough to find if you want it bad enough; but art, true deep art full of grace that shakes and terrifies the soul, is an elusive spirit and damn near impossible to come by. So sitting in this sunny backyard at the end of this journey that I took with my friends and family, everyone that I love and some of whom did not even realize they were on this trip, I’m thinking: We found it. Goddammit, every- body: We found it. And that’s a rare feeling indeed.

And it’s all just a moment.

$46.00 - $76.00

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