Truth be told, this album deserves to be considerably higher on this list. If any other artist had penned it, it might be the very top album of the year. But that is not the case, and the standards that we hold Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) to are much higher than “any other artist”. They were set by him three years ago when he released For Emma, Forever Ago which is and will always be a symbol of perfection in the history books of indie folk. This album is not the equal of his debut, especially as you give it time to sink in, but it is still great. It opens with two tracks (“Perth” and “Minnesota, WI”) that inspire the listener to lust; if you didn’t know the genius of Bon Iver, these are perfect introductions to his spiraling complexity and quiet ardor. Then there is “Towers”, which is speechlessly good. It’s feverish, at least as feverish as Bon Iver gets. The lyrics are, as with the rest of the album, flawless and complex and just vague enough that they can largely be applied to any number of situations. Of course, here they are most directly the words of a love song, but could he just be using romance as an allusion to something greater?
“From the faun forever gone,
In the towers of your honeycomb,
I’d a’tore all your hair out just to climb back darling.
When you’re filling out your only form,
Can you tell that it’s just ceremon’?
Now you’ve added up to what you’re from.”
As we pointed out in the full review, the only thing Bon Iver is lacking in is intimacy, something For Emma was brimming with. It is not as directly engaging to the soul, but rather to the mind. There is only one other drawback that sets it behind For Emma, and that would be the fact that it sounds a little too much like the Blood Bank EP and Volcano Choir and all his various endeavors since bursting onto the scene. You can’t hold that against him as an artist, but you can hold it against this particular record.