Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon is a popular guy. If you aren’t familiar with the Wisconsin-based group, chances are you know a few people that are: their wide fan base ranges from Kanye West to your mother. For good reason too: Vernon’s voice is nothing short of angelic, his gorgeous arrangements range from sparse solo acoustic guitar to Phil Collins-esque keyboard ballads to shameless Auto-Tune use, and he turns a mean rap hook (see: Kanye West’s “Monster”). First achieving critical and commercial success with 2007′s For Emma, Forever Ago, famously recorded mostly alone in a remote Wisconsin cabin after a bout of physical and emotional turmoil, Vernon has remained busy with other groups, notably the collaborative experimental group Volcano Choir and the wonderful 80s soft rock pastiche Gayngs, along with Bon Iver’s 2009 EP Blood Bank.
But forget the man-alone-in-the-woods mystique surrounding Vernon and his work: the new album Bon Iver demonstrates the same ability for songwriting as his previous work, but the band itself has developed into a fuller, richer listening experience. The folk sensibilities of For Emma remain evident on tracks like “Holocene” and “Michicant”, but solo acoustic strumming is replaced with crisp electric arpeggios and moody synth backdrops. Vernon’s lyrics remain an enigma as always, but with his vocal range and presence hearing him sing the classified ads would be a fine listening experience. Like his other releases, Bon Iver is a cohesive work culminating into a stellar closing track: “Beth/Rest” is perhaps Vernon’s finest moment yet, un-ironically utilizing the aforementioned keyboard sounds for a ballad worthy of the top of the pop charts.