“I don’t want to get myself in trouble – and I don’t think I’m super important or anything – but I think it’s so funny that when you look at the business and the way that people make decisions in their lives, whether they’re in art or music or they’re in industry, they forget that being unique is the answer.” -Justin Vernon
People who spend time around me know that I talk about music a lot. A lot in this case being way past the point of social acceptability. Case in point, my favorite wasted afternoon I have spent this year: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1l7gBUBSndpD4m2hrl5bcDpuywPAYV43gSPGMaGQOHjc/edit#gid=0. (check out the dashboard)..
Point is, I listen to a lot of music [48 thousand minutes last year], go to a lot of shows [300+ at this point] and think/talk about it constantly. Luckily, I have friends who share this disease and we all obsess together which is great.
Through it all, I have seen exactly four shows that I would call perfect. On the spreadsheet these are the four with 10’s in front of them; Sigur Ros, Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros +LA Philharmonic, and Bon Iver. Tomorrow night I am flying to London to see Bon Iver at Eventim Apollo.
Bon Iver has snuck up on me over the years. Something like: Boring sleeper music -> background coffee shop music -> hey this re:stacks song is really good -> wow Bon Iver is pretty good -> 22 A Million is one of the coolest albums I have ever heard. -> Holy shit Bon Iver just won Coachella -> Now: I can’t even listen to anything else at this point.
For context, at this point, Justin Vernon is a legend in music world. Bon Iver is certified massive with multiple Grammys and headlining festivals everywhere. Justin Vernon has produced some of Kanye West’s biggest tracks, has numerous successful side projects ranging from bluegrass to rock to soul music, and getting invited to play at his yearly ‘Eaux Claires Festival’ is one of the biggest honors in musician land. However, 10 years ago he was just a sad dude in the woods.
Quick History Lesson
In 2006, Justin Vernon was in a pretty terrible place. He was kicked out of his band, he got mononucleosis (sounds bad I guess), and his love/social life was in tatters. So, as depressed musicians are inclined to do, he drove home to his parents in Eau Claire Wisconsin, gathered some belongings, and drove to his fathers’s isolated hunting cabin in the woods up north. His three weeks away from the world turned into three months alone, recording music, hunting to eat, and reflecting on his life.
The recordings he created are basically the story of his life, coping with loss, relationship, struggles with gambling, and attempts to move forward. He generally sings in an auto-tuned falsetto style which gives everything a sort of sad/angelic feeling. It is a beautiful, soft, record that is best served with thunderstorms at a coffee shop in Brooklyn or on a long bus ride alone. Friends would convince him to independently release the recordings as an album called, ‘For Emma Forever Ago’, and Bon Iver was born. (Sidenote: For Emma’s 10th anniversary was this year and last week Justin played the whole album straight through. See a video in the footer.
In 2011 Vernon and co released ‘Bon Iver’ by Bon Iver. To an outsider this album will still sound like coffee shop music, but compared to For Emma, this is most definitely the flushed out and heavier version of Bon Iver. Bigger, more complicated arrangements with a larger band, give an almost rock and roll feel at times. Still though Justin’s voice is the magic sauce that changes the game. Album two was again met with universal acclaim.
Then after alluding to the end of the band for years after album 2, Bon Iver reunited in 2016 and released what might be my favorite album of all time. ’22, A Million’ is not coffee shop music. It is weird, and experimental, and heavy, and closer to an underground experimental electronic album than the beautiful angelic melodies of the first two albums. Everything is symbolic and chaotic and based on numbers and feels like it came from the mind of an alien. That said, by the 10th listen you start to recognize the traditional Bon Iver sound shielded by the dark experimental exterior. I have a lot of respect for artists that evolve, take risks that might alienate their fan bases, and generally do what they want. Bon Iver lives that.
Sounds cool.. but this seems a bit excessive breh..
Fair point third person narrator.. However, it’s hard to explain how good a Bon Iver show is. Despite the coffee shop discography, Justin Vernon and company put on one of the most intense, epic, concerts I have ever seen. Take all the best parts of an earthshaking rock concert, a trippy electronic show, and the melodies and angelic voice of Justin Vernon. The result is something unexplainable and amazing where everything, even the softest songs, feel massive and meaningful.
One of the most unreal perks of living in London was that I could go to a super high quality show almost every night if I wanted to. Israel has good artists, but it’s childs-play compared to somewhere like London or NYC. While I am a massive advocate for change and trying new things, I also fundamentally believe that if you have something you are passionate about and willing and able to invest in, you are lucky. Too many people aren’t lucky enough to have that passion. So, given that I am lucky enough to be able to swing such a trip and see friends in London, I am pretty excited for tomorrow.
Ok you win.. send me some songs..
Notice: Good headphones required.
- Absolutely murdering a version of The Wolves from For Emma (the cabin album) during the 10 year anniversary show last weekend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0Kk6tgXC0g
- The new electronic heavy sound: 22 (OVER S∞∞N): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSILBzLyupk
- My favorite Bon Iver song re:stacks (old) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7DRvKN198Y
- Insane Acapella version of Heavenly Father: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAoADCSpD-8
- Full version of the current earthshaking show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJNi7aRwUzU&t=281s
That is all.