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Bon Iver: Blood Bank EP

[Jagjaguwar]

January 29, 2009  |  5:20pm
Bon Iver: <em>Blood Bank</em> EP
Winter songwriter leaves seasonal trappings behind

"Blood Bank" is, well, electric. Meaning that the opening track of Bon Iver's EP of the same name isn't, you know, acoustic. While usually an unremarkable descriptor for rock music, here it marks a notable departure for a songwriter whose sophomore release just can't be listened to without comparison to its predecessor, For Emma, Forever Ago. The song is a narrative: it speaks in Justin Vernon's usual nostalgic language, this time of first meetings and of identity reduced to the contents of plastic bags. The same layered, telescopic vocal stacks we’ve all come to expect from a Bon Iver record ring out, low chords sustain and taper and the song crescendos and clatters to a beautiful, chaotic ending. But now, during this track as well as the other three comprising the EP, new tonalities like piano and slide guitar not only supplement but make up the meat of the music. The record sounds, appropriately so, as if it were made by a band experimenting, rather than by one man alone, heartbroken, in his so-often-talked-about Wisconsin cabin.

The most jarring shift from For Emma can be found in "Woods," the EP's final and bravest song. A chorus of Vernons intone and howl a cappella in perhaps the most complicated and beautiful arrangement we've yet heard from Bon Iver to date. But the entire composition is either augmented or marred by the pervasive use of a vocoder. It's blatant, unabashed electronic trickery applied to music from an artist to which most of us previously cleaved as the very opposite of all that. Although perhaps not robbing the arrangement of all its heart, it lends a metallic, inhuman edge to a songwriter whose entire appeal was borne from his humanity.

Listen to the entire Blood Bank EP on the band's MySpace page.

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