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Published: 2009/02/10
by Fady Khalil

Blood Bank EP – Bon Iver


On his new Blood Bank EP, forest rocker Justin Vernon emerges from the wintry slumber that produced 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago and transformed him into Bon Iver in the process. But Vernon isn’t different, just relocated. Blood Bank preserves the icicles grown in his Northern Wisconsin hermitage, just as sharp, just as cold.

The album opens with little more than Vernon’s distant voice and delicate guitar strums, a title track that resounds with his penchant for minimalism. Fragile echoes of voice remain perpetually out of reach, finally exhausting to a whisper as he recounts the snow-covered memories of love’s wings spreading wide, so wide. He sings, “You said ain't this just like the present, to be showing up like this/ There's a moon waning crescent, we started to kiss,” channeling the poetic play of Elliott Smith’s “St. Ide’s Heaven,” its vibrant imagery cascading down the synapses of mind, painting life with its multicolored syllables.

The soliloquy of “Beach Baby,” meanwhile, could be ripped from an agonizing memory, or at least it should be. Intimate, vulnerable, raw, it demands an existence outside of this song, somewhere in the recesses of Vernon’s past. “When you’re out, tell your lucky one to know that you’ll leave/ But you don’t lock when you’re fleeing, I’d like not to hear keys.” The passage saturates one's thoughts, induces reflection, perhaps on wounds once thought healed. This is Bon Iver!

But these naked truths find cumbersome attire as the recording comes down to its oh-so-B-side. The wanton chorus of “Babys” energetically repeats, “Summer comes, to multiply, to multiply!” accompanied by frenzied key strikes, both accelerating the slowed metabolism that had been so effective during the first half of the album. Vocoder-laden “Woods” creates an electronic veil that obscures the naked sentiment at the core of Bon Iver. But the further distance needed to travel in reaching the man behind the machine may suit some ears just fine.

The album ends too quickly. Four songs have barely begun to satisfy the appetite they so capably whetted. But Blood Bank stands as testament that Vernon’s music resides within him, not around him or as a product of his isolated environs. That’s enough to make this a fine album. Where he goes, winter seems to follow, as it will for those unafraid of the cold.

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