Music Discovery: Bon Iver

What will my eleven week-old think of me when he’s a music-obsessed teen and learns that, even though I hold a degree in music, I never seem to listen to it much? Poor kid will be disgusted with me, and rightly so. Perhaps as disgusted as I was with my parents, who had a lovely stereo system but owned only “Sgt Peppers” and the entire Herb Alpert catalog—and never listened to either.

Right or wrong, I’m blaming my musical complacency on lack of “discovery”. The few times I’ve been excited about music again (music other than my own compositions, that is) has been when I discovered something new. So I’ve decided to go hunting for new music because I have no intention of being as out-of-it as my own parents were, and it won’t be that long before my son grows old enough to realize how out-of-it I currently am.

So I’m taking the Wit Happens blog readers along for the ride. Here we go!

I find a lot of interesting new-to-me music via the KEXP song-of-the-day podcast. Recently in their feed:Bon Iver (on MySpace, and bio here).

Bon Iver

Bon Iver (pronounced eevair, as in French for winter, intentionally misspelled) is the brain-child of Justin Vernon, and emerged from his spending a Thoreauan, isolated winter in northern Wisconsin as he faced-down some inner turmoil. Rather than simply “hibernate”, which had been the original plan, he recorded nine songs, which he released as the Bon Iver album For Emma, Forever Ago.

The first song, Skinny Love, is just beautiful. An mp3 is here (can’t vouch for its legality). You can also stream the song on his Virb page, and his MySpace profile. His album, For Emma, Forever Ago, is on Jagjaguwar records, and is available digitally on Amazon, as is the CD.

For Emma, Forever Ago, album cover

A trained musician such as myself should be well capable of explaining why a piece of music appeals to him. Over the years I’ve drifted further and further away from music that appeals to me intellectually, and back toward music that appeals on a visceral level. That was going to be how I avoided the question of why I like this piece of music, because I honestly didn’t have it in my really analyze this piece of music. Seems at odds with the spirit of the song, anyway. But then I learned the back story of Justin Vernon and his isolated winter, and the appeal began to make sense even without an analysis of the music. I’ve been most prolific with my own songwriting (and most successful) during introspective times of my life, when I’ve intentionally isolated myself. I’m not going to compare my own music to this one song or album, but at least the motivation and the recording style are familiar to me. Maybe that’s why this song reaches me.

Purists who get off on hearing the imperfections of hand-crafted recordings—first-take kind of stuff, complete with creaks & pops—will love this album. So will people who get off on super-promising “freshman” releases… you know, people who love to be disappointed by sophomore releases.

Anyway, please enjoy this song, Skinny Love, and check back soon for other “discoveries”, new and old. Meanwhile, here’s Justin Vernon performing Skinny Love at the Bowery Ballroom:


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