Blood Bank (EP)

Bon Iver

Jagjaguwar, 2009

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


Justin Vernon’s debut as Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago, was one of 2008’s singular, stunning albums, a touchstone in a new era of foksy, ruminative (and oftentimes bearded indie rock). His latest EP, Blood Bank, come as a welcome way to bridge the gap between For Emma and his next full-length, though these four songs emerge as standouts in their own right, exploring new territory while still retaining a certain -- now characteristic -- intimacy and chill loveliness.   

Opener “Blood Bank” is an instant knockout, a decidedly immediate and altogether, well, weird track. “Well, I met you at the blood bank / We were looking at the bags / Wondering if any of the colors / Matched any of the names we knew on the tags,” Vernon begins, a line that any fiction writer worth his salt would love to call his own. Matched with steadily throbbing guitars and an undercurrent of “oohs,” the track swerves to unfold an oddly tender, spare scene -- “Then the snow started falling / We were stuck out in your car / You were rubbing both my hands…as a moon waned to crescent” -- the insistent guitar continuing to rise and pad his hushed vocals.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The muted, acoustic hum of “Beach Baby” may be stripped of “Blood Bank”’s crackling energy, but it’s no less affecting. The stark backdrop pairs well with Vernon’s skewed and oftentimes gut-wrenching syntax (“When you're out, tell your lucky one to know that you'll leave / But don't you lock when you're fleeing / I'd like not to hear keys”), and this short, haunting cut reaches its end as fleetingly as an exhale.

The rest of the material here is intriguingly experimental, focusing less on Vernon’s well-crafted wordplay and instead creating fleshed-out, atmospheric moods in his instrumentation. “Babys” wraps a swirling, unyielding keyboard riff around the strange refrain “Summer comes to multiply, to multiply,” beginning to pile on the multitracked vocals that feature so prominently on closer “Woods.”

“Woods,” meanwhile, finds itself zapped with the Vocoder, all the close-miced naturalism of For Emma forsaken in favor of establishing a hypnotic, Auto-Tuned mood that ultimately finds itself unexpectedly resonant and organic. Vernon repeats a single line, “I’m up in the woods / I’m down on my mind / I’m building a sill / To slow down the time,” with various effects -- otherworldly and echoing growing increasingly less restrained as he introduces first a crystal-clear, then a screeching falsetto. Vernon’s foray off the grid from the more accessible introspection of “Skinny Love” or “For Emma” definitely takes a little warming up to, but as always, Bon Iver’s work is worth the time it takes to unfold. His songs are made to be lived in and worn out and treasured, and the Blood Bank EP is a strong sign that his next full-length will be just as revelatory.

Rating: A-

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© 2009 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Jagjaguwar, and is used for informational purposes only.