There are already a squillion reviews of the new Bon Iver album, many much more erudite and insightful than I could be, and so I will share my sense of anxiety and trepidation about this new release.
This is the second release in a short period that represents the artist in question’s sophomore album- first there was Fleet Foxes and Helplessness Blues and now just a few weeks later is Bon Iver’s, Bon Iver. Of course second albums have that ‘difficult’ reputation and neither of these suffer from that problem – that is ‘difficult’ in the ‘not-very-good’ sense. For me the ‘difficulty’ lay not in the possibility that the music might be a bit duff but more in the fact that I, like many others I suspect, had invested so much in the initial albums, possibly too much.
The risk lies in the chance that these second albums might somehow erode or diminish the significance of the first, that by releasing another set of material I would have to re-assess and adjust my entrenched views, re-appraise the aura of semi-sanctity that I had surrounded the albums with. Absurd I know, they aren’t the first bands to have a second album, but such is the place that these two ‘first’ albums had secured.
If truth be told Helplessness Blues from Fleet Foxes has so far fallen a little short for me. There is much to like, some sections are indeed very good, but I have this nagging feeling that overall the second album struggles to climb out of the shadow of its older brother. Many people may disagree with me I am sure and in time maybe I will feel differently about it myself.
The Bon Iver album on the other hand has managed to keep hold of all the qualities so beloved of For Emma, Forever Ago but doesn’t feel like it is trying to live up to the first born. Perhaps the trick lies in the luscious production so different to the chill austerity of the first, or maybe the augmented sound, the additional layers of instruments, the depth of the sound stage?
Whatever it may be, I have taken away from the first few listens to the new album the same sense of excitement of a newly discovered treasure, the sense of something special and, well, rather precious. That’s quite a feat in my book, to rise to the expectations pitched so high as a result of an unexpected and wonderful debut, and not to fall short, but perhaps to surpass the achievement of the first. This is a fine, fine collection of music and if in November they can pull off a live show as great as that as the Bristol Trinity show of September 2008 (!) then there is God in heaven and all will be right with the world.