It was with apprehension that the world speculated over the potential of Bon Iver’s eponymous second album after it was announced in May, and wether or not it would live up to the success of For Emma, Forever Ago. The latter’s incredible authenticity was a big part of what made it one of the most important folk releases of our generation, and of course, with any album following a release of such prestige, it is a daunting prospect for both the artist and their fans.
However, the thoughtful folk fans of the world are in luck and can breathe a sigh of relief, for Justin Vernon has spectacularly done it again. Bon Iver takes the quietly understated brilliance of For Emma, and doubles its intensity with extraordinary conviction.’ Perth’, the shimmeringly beautiful opening track, employs an exquisitely delicate guitar sound that hums with an underlying roar of warm overdrive, coupled with military snare, thunderclap-esque cymbals and enormously powerful toms that almost move the earth beneath your feet. Flowing beautifully through the wildly experimental ‘Minnesota, WI’, which fluctuates between softly plucked strings and magnificently powerful bass and drums, we are graced by ‘Holocene’ which is, like the rest of the album, utterly ethereal in both its composition and delivery.
However, it is pieces like ‘Perth’ and ‘Towers’ which display the progression from For Emma… to Bon Iver.There is more movement in these tracks than before, more being said musically, and more power in the overall sound present throughout the record. The album moves with slightly less finesse than For Emma, but definitely with more focus. There is little messing around with unnecessary ambience, and when a piece needs to reach that epic climax that so many folk artists leave by the wayside, the band do it with clarity, certainty and ineffable brilliance.
When it comes to production, Bon Iver takes another step past its predecessor. Gone are the hesitant sounds of the Blood Bank EP, replaced with assuredness in every aspect of the album’s construction. Every single bar sounds delicately constructed with the utmost care and attention, which is no mean feat considering the number of layers which make up each track. No song is too long or too short, and not even the controversially written ‘Beth/Rest’, which features primarily just Vernon and a synthesiser, displays anything but heartfelt honesty. The indisputable authenticity for which Vernon’s sound is known is no less present here, but it has been developed to have more warmth and feeling laced into it than I have heard on an album for a long time, if ever.
At the release of For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver was simply a quiet, mysterious and breathtakingly raw collection of indescribable sounds which seemed to long for the solitude of an isolated cabin in Wisconsin. Bon Iver, however, takes Justin Vernon’s sound and announces its splendor to the world. It is the sheer level of sincerity and emotion and the fearless experimentation with ideas and textures that makes this record something truly special, and it is with absolute certainty that I say that it will be one of the most important albums of the decade. Merlin Jobst
Key tracks: Holocene, Perth & Calgary
For fans of: The Tallest Man On Earth, The Antlers & James Vincent McMorrow
To be released June 21, 2011 on Jagjaguwar Records
(Originally posted on Little Sparrow)
In news that’s likely to have hipsters wetting their pants several times over, Pitchfork-approved artists Bon Iver and James Blake are apparently set to collaborate. On what, it’s uncertain, but Blake posted the following message on Twitter: "24th August 2011 - James Blake & Bon Iver "Fall Creek Boys Choir". It should be noted that Fall Creek is the name of the Wisconsin town where Justin Vernon owns a studio. With both Blake and Justin Vernon possessing unique voices, “Fall Creek Choir Boys”, whatever it is, will be an interesting listen.
WATCH /// BON IVER - HOLOCENE
I may be in the minority of not liking Bon Iver's second album much, but "Holocene" is one of the undoubted highlights, thanks to both its restrained folk-rock and its heart breaking lyrics. The video is equally as beautiful and could easily be a Sigur Ros video, with breathtaking Icelandic landscapes. Simple, but effective.
Bon Iver's self-titled sophmore album is re-released as a deluxe version today, which includes accompanying videos for each of the tracks. Here's the the rather sunny one for the heavenly highlight "Hinnom, TX".
"Bon Iver" is currently third in Hitsville’s end of year albums poll, which you can vote for here. The polls close tomorrow.
1) Drake - Take Care
Much hyped, much rated and much hated; Drake has made the best RnB since Justified. If you file Drake under the ‘lame ass rapper’ heading there is a call to say you’d be right. As a rapper he isn’t the greatest of all time but he doesn’t confess to be. It can be easy to criticise his #hashtag flow or his ‘first world problem’ lyrics. But you have to see past that. Drake works because all of these combine with near perfect production, clever melodies and a nice guy image that makes him one of the best in hip hop right now. His partnership with ‘40’ has a lot to do with his success but surely that doesnt really matter when you’re writing songs like "Underground Kings" and "Marvin’s Room".
2) James Blake - James Blake
Call it what you like but the sound that James Blake has created for himself has pretty much defined what 2011 has been in terms of music. The xx might have gotten the minimalist ball rolling but James Blake has moved it forward to the dance floor. The tenderness in Blake’s vocals is completely juxtaposed by the heavy bass on tracks like "Limit To Your Love" but it just works. This record is the perfect collision of classic song writing and alternative dance music. Whilst his latest work has been very piano heavy, here it is used in all the right places and creates another world for the listener; one they never want to leave.
3) Gil Scott-Heron vs. Jamie xx - We’re New Here
Gil Scott-Heron's 2010 album “I'm New Here” was his best release in over 30 years and proved to everybody that he is still the more relevant to street culture than most of the Billboard Hot 100. This remix album is much more than just that. It cuts and pastes the best parts of Gil Scott's career which spans almost 50 years. The album not only proves again how important Gil Scott-Heron, who passed away in May, was but also how exceptionally good a producer Jamie xx is. His reworks of Florence + The Machine and Adele were but a show piece for what is the most consistent, well written remix album in years. It is so well produced that it feels like a new album. There is no ‘fingers-in-the-air’ club songs like Gaga’s recent effort; it is too well thought out for that. The production is so good in fact that it attracted the attention of Drake who samples "I’ll Take Care of U" in his sophomore album’s title track. "We’re New Here" is a remix album for music lovers.
4) EMA - Past Life Martyred Saints
A lot of people wont ‘get’ this album. It’s distorted acoustic guitars and lo fi production arent for everybody. But if you can find a way into EMA there is no going back. The barebones approach to this record is truly beautiful. Songs like "Marked" are the reason the world needs EMA. Her voice sounds damaged and so does the music. The best way to describe this record is to imagine if Bon Iver (circa 2009) and Josh Homme merged together and into female form and were left in the desert with nothing but a guitar and an old microphone.
5) Jay Z & Kanye West - Watch the Throne
it is worth mentioning at this point that none of this years albums, as brilliant as they are, come close to Yeezy's 2010 album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy". It was a deranged, magical circus of hip-hop’s greats. it is for this reason that Watch the Throne was disappointing. When the decade’s best producer and the best rapper alive collide it should be a match made in heaven. In many ways it is. Watch the Throne’s songs are excellent and both rappers, particularly Kanye, are on top of their game. It is a return to form for Jigga, who’s last album fell flat of his previous work. The only thing that stops this album from being the best album of this year (it is definitely a classic and will probably date better than anything else on the list) is that the songs dont fit together as well as they could. A good album has to feel like an album, that same way The Black Album or MBDTF does. A perfect album can only be played from start to finish with no exceptions; somewhere WTT falls short.
6) The Weeknd - House of Ballons/Thursday
If you could go back to 2010 and ask who The Weeknd was do you know what people would say? Nothing. The Canadian singer’s stunning rise to fame is mind blowing. Not only was his first, free mixtape nominated for the Solaris Prize but he co-wrote and features on 4 of the songs on Drake’s new album Take Care. In the sleeve notes of Take Care, Drake thanks The Weeknd and the rest of the XO Gang for being there and that without them he could not have made the album he wanted to. There is so little you can say about The Weeknd’s music without hearing it for yourself. If James Blake opened 2011 to an R’n’B sound, then The Weeknd has closed it. The third mixtape in the trilogy, Echoes Of Silence, is still shrouded in mystery but will drop before the year is out. After that, The Weeknd really doesn’t have to do anything to be considered a great. But let’s pray that he will.
7) Bon Iver - Bon Iver, Bon Iver
Nobody really saw Bon Iver's return coming. He could have remained solo; a man and a guitar writing melancholic songs about a past love that every teenage boy and girl could relate to. By returning with a full band there was a great chance to attack Bon Iver. But the self titled sophomore record is even better than the first. There is an undeniable beauty in For Emma, Forever Ago but in 2011it can feel slow. "Bon Iver" is an album that takes the ideas from that first album and injects colour into them. This album doesn’t sound like it was recorded by the same man. But dont worry, you can still cry to it.
8) Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra
Frank Ocean isn’t Odd Future. If you are one of the closed minded fools that dismiss any of the group’s affiliates as young skate rats that disrespect women then you are missing out on one of the most exciting new talents of the year. Not only is his sound different but the melodies Frank Ocean creates are some of the greatest you will hear. The same way The Weeknd released a mix tape and suddenly became the most sought out artist in the game, so did Frank Ocean. The two’s path this year can be paralleled easily. Both released R’n’B influenced mixtapes to critical acclaim, both have written songs for other artists and both ended up singing hooks on the two biggest hip hop releases of the year. Frank Ocean is less pretentious than The Weeknd but is no less talented. Nostalgia, Ultra is a fun, intelligent and seductive record that will make you fall instantly for Frank Ocean and never look back.
9) Tyler, The Creator - Goblin
You were probably shacked up in a log cabin somewhere watching old repeats of Top Gear if you haven’t heard of Tyler, The Creator. The biggest breakthrough of the year has everyone watching him - not everyone positively. No matter what you think of Tyler off the mic there is no denying his skill with producing and painting lyrical pictures. Goblin isn’t as filthy as Bastard but the progression of Tyler in the time between is clear. The production is more varied and the subjects broadened. The album isn’t the classic it was hyped to be but Tyler is growing with every release and next year’s Wolf should be what we’ve been waiting for.
10) Arctic Monkeys - Suck it And See
The only people that seem to not like the Arctics are people who dismissed their first record as lad rock and moved on. Through by-passing the 3 albums since, they missed out. Suck it And See is arguably the most consistent of the band’s records since their debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, but in every other way it is basically incomparable. They’ve moved on, further towards Queens Of The Stone age territory but it’s not bad thing. The title track is excellent and the moments where the band let themselves slip into heavy mode are some of the greatest. If they do split up as the rumours have been saying, after this album then it confirms their place in indie heaven. What ever happens the Arctic Monkeys will be remembered as, probably, the most important British band of the 2000s.
10/// Childish Gambino - Camp
Probably the latest arrival to this list, Camp came from literally nowhere (for me, at least – Glover’s more loyal fans must’ve been waiting for this for a good while [faaaar too long - Ed.]) to absolutely astonish and thrill me. Almost like a reaction to Tyler, The Creator’s dark, moody and internalised raps, Childish Gambino’s songs ring with a more positive and cheerful tone, and it’s obvious that he doesn’t take himself so seriously as to keep his songs at a sturdy low level. The track Heartbeat is easily the best song I’ve heard this year, with Justice styled electronics over a really powerful rap about a broken up relationship.
Best Tracks: “That Power”, “Heartbeat”, “Outside”
9/// Protest The Hero - Scurrilous
Protest The Hero’s third full length attempt has turned out to be their most fruitful, ditching the concept album stylings of their debut and sophomore releases, for a more standard song by song approach to the record. This is singer Rody Walker’s first foray into writing songs for the band and it’s obvious as the subject matter and the mood of the songs seem to have taken a swing towards realism, as opposed to the Star Trek influenced concepts of their second album, Fortress. Tracks like “Dunsel” and the enormous "Sex Tapes", combined with the vicious riffs and relentlessness of "Tapestry" and "Hair-Trigger" combine to make a metal record that’s truly impressive (and completely devoid of any sort of growling or shouting), immersive and thoughtful album that they’ll have a hard job following up.
Best Tracks: “C’est La Vie”, “Tapestry” and “Dunsel”
8/// Tyler, The Creator - Goblin
It’s hard to argue with Tyler, The Creator’s success, really. If I trace it back to when I first heard "Yonkers", Tyler’s flagship track that has attracted the attention of rap giants like Kanye West, I am truly astonished at Tyler’s growth in pop culture this year. It’s hard to avoid him, too – the OFWGKTA brand seems to be permeating every group of teenagers in the UK (I can’t speak for the US but I can only imagine it’s the same). Goblin is actually Tyler’s second album, and is a concept album; part 2 of 3 (the follow up, Wolf, is due out in the next year or so. Probably sooner). Tyler’s dark, counter-cultural lyrics really draw your attention – it’s true when he raps on his first album, Bastard; “I created OF cause I feel we’re more talented than 40 year old rappers talking about Gucci”. There’s a far more internalised style to Tyler’s raps, and where it’s not in your face shocking, it’s actually quite pensive, the track "Nightmare" being a prime example, as well as the title track. Overall, just impressive as a 19 year old rapper’s second album.
Best Tracks: “Goblin”, “She” and “Transylvania”
7/// Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch The Throne
Watch The Throne was a surprisingly divisive record released this year, a collaboration between hip-hop producing aficionado Kanye West and straight up rap legend Jay-Z, following their work together on West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and on Mr. Z’s The Blueprint III, most recently, which was released to worldwide praise and punishment. The album begins with the colossal "No Church in The Wild", my personal favourite, setting the tone for an altogether more intelligent hip hop album in amongst the droves of Lil Whatevers and Wicca Flaccid Flays, and introducing OFWGKTA’s Frank Ocean in an incredibly atmospheric, tense opener. Throughout the album we’re treated to Kanye’s grandiose flair and Jay-Z’s stripped down sampling on the instrumentals, one never interfering with the other. Lyrically it’s some of their best works; Kanye blurting lines like “write my curses in cursive” and “41 souls murdered in 50 hours”, there’s a lot more finesse to the raps on it. Jay-Z’s on top form as always: “Lies on the lips of the priest/Thanksgiving disguised as a feast” and “Black tie, black Maybachs/Black excellence, opulence, decadence”. Worth a try if you like hip hop.
Best Tracks: “Murder To Excellence”, “That’s My Bitch”, “No Church In The Wild”, “Niggas In Paris”
6/// Times Of Grace - Hymn Of A Broken Man
Killswitch Engage’s former frontman and current lead guitarist sat down at some point and decided to make a record together again. They said it wouldn’t be a repeat of their past works and they said it would be something unexpected. It wasn’t really. It feels like Killswitch’s unfinished business; as though with their latest self titled released they’ve moved on and needed to revisit something. As though Times Of Grace are the old spirit of Killswitch freeing themselves from the new style. Hymn Of A Broken Man revisits what made Killswitch so good - the uplifting, positive lyrics mixed with the relentless melodies of a heavy metal with a polite edge. At times, Hymn sounds like a pastoral metal album, matching up to its artwork and having these unexplainable hints of being just a step beyond metal. Tracks like "Willing" and "Live In Love" are more than just their titles and really do bring a really happy sound to a heavy record. The interruption of the record with the softer songs in "The Forgotten One" and so on sometimes feels like an unhinging of a sturdy album but every song is good and every song has the melodies that you are wishing Killswitch still made.
Best Tracks: Hope Remains, Until The End Of Days, Fall From Grace
5/// City And Colour - Little Hell
If there’s one thing that could add a little positivity to the disappointing split of Alexisonfire, it’s the brilliance of guitarist/songwriter Dallas Green’s solo project City And Colour and its continuous improvements. Moving from simple acoustic tunes with a bit of percussion and harmonica, Little Hell is a more expansive sound, employing rock organs, electric guitars, full bands and the occasional orchestrated section. The songs are a lot catchier this time around, and there’s less of a single emotion and feeling around the album as there was on 2005’s Sometimes, and it really feels like Dallas’ songwriting has hit its stride for these more pop-friendly rock tracks. The atmosphere of "Hope For Now" and "Sorrowing Man" implies a desolate, hopeless feeling that would be found in some of Alexisonfire’s tracks without ever taking the song to regions too heavy for the record. With this album, City And Colour has potentially revealed the magic of the third album and hit the start of a lot of commercial success.
Best tracks: “Hope For Now”, “Sorrowing Man”, “Weightless”
4/// Mastodon - The Hunter
You’re hard pressed today to find a fan of heavy music who isn’t into Mastodon. 2009’s HUGE Crack The Skye was a sonic masterpiece, the conclusion to a four-album arc that spanned the elements. Two years later Mastodon get the ball rolling for their ascent to the stratosphere with The Hunter, an adventure, nay, an epic which sums up the state of modern metal in thirteen easy steps. Atmospheric, thick and heavy, this album is everything metal should be, without the bells, bollocks and breakdowns that seem to be infecting so many subgenres in metal. Tracks like "The Sparrow" show that we’ve still got a soft side on the devil’s side of the tracks and "Black Tongue" lets us be dissonant and melodic all in the space of a few minutes.
Best Tracks: “Bedazzled Fingernails”, “Octopus Has No Friends”, “The Hunter”
3/// August Burns Red - Leveler
August Burns Red’s fourth studio album is the biggest one yet and although they’ve achieved the status of metalcore giants in the space of under ten years, and 4 albums, they’ve got more rungs in the ladder to climb but they’re taking it four rungs at a time. Leveler is yet another colossal record that’s come out this year, and really has hit home harder than the harshest of beatdowns. 2009’s Constellations was an adventurous effort from the Pennsylvania quintet and Leveler advances past this, takes the elegant sounds of Constellations and adds about a hundred pounds of weight behind it. Whether it’s the galloping speed of "Divisions" or the slow building "Carpe Diem", the album is out and out heavy, without sacrificing instrumental skill or intelligence at any point. Jake Luhrs’ voice howls with utter conviction while the band’s music eats you up and spits you out. A true achievement.
Best Tracks: “Empire”, “Internal Cannon”, “Leveler”, “Boys of Fall”
2/// Dead And Divine - Antimacy
The Canadian Every Time I Die. That’s really all I need to say when describing the band, Dead And Divine. As for the album Antimacy, it’s the Canadian Abbey Road. Okay, perhaps not quite Beatles-esque in any way, shape or form. Antimacy is the filthiest, nastiest and all-out angriest rock and roll record I’ve heard in… Ever. From its opening track "Asphyxia Fiend", “My heart’s riddled with stitches/I’m an asphyxiated kind of blue”, to the rager "Ditchpig", “Your words are far worse than the cancer you fake/You fake fucking pig”, the lyrics never let up in vocalist’s Matt Tobin’s rage at, well, everything. The melodies and grooves on this record are unrivalled, with some of the coolest beats and riffs I’ve heard in a rock record in forever. The clean vocals are catchy, and well sung (HA! Take that, indie rock) and the bass dominates in a way which seems almost counter-intuitive in rock. Nonetheless, every track on this record is destined to be a crowd pleaser and every track on this record has some meaning. Seriously. Just check it out.
Best Tracks: “Asphyxia Fiend”, “Carcinoma”, “Midnight Society”
1/// Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Is it really that surprising? Justin Vernon’s cult phenomenon are only on their second album but probably number one on about three million bored hipsters’ lists of favourite bands. Not to say that Bon Iver are boring – so far from it, in fact, that the act’s tour sold out in a crazy amount of time (I’m still mad about that). The debut from the group, For Emma, Forever Ago, was one of the best records of recent years and it seemed so impossible to follow up that people doubted that there would even be a second Bon Iver album. The release of Blood Bank EP was a taste of things to come but couldn’t really ever forewarn us to the sound of the sophomore release, the self titled album. The band released "Calgary" a few weeks before the record itself, and fans were astonished at how totally different the song sounded. People wanted more “Skinny Love”, not a bloody 80s tribute act. We all warmed to “Calgary”, however, and when the full album was released, it was instantly acclaimed. Instantly. Every track on this album is emotional, adventurous and interesting. Bon Iver reminds us with every listen that music is an art form, as much as it is an expression of self, and the synergy between the two can be so fluid that you begin to wonder where the feeling stops and where the making begins.
Best Tracks: The whole damn thing.
In a nod to the good old Top 40 of the pop charts, here’s what you, the loyal Hitsville faithful, voted as your tracks of 2011…
- Tyler, The Creator - Yonkers
- Bombaby Bicycle Club - Shuffle
- Nicola Roberts - Beat Of My Drum
- Los Campesinos! - By Your Hand
- White Lies - Bigger Than Us
- The Horrors - Still Life
- Childish Gambino - Freaks & Geeks
- Elbow - Open Arms
- Arctic Monkeys - The Hellcat Spangled Shalalala
- Jay-Z & Kanye West - Otis
- Rihanna - We Found Love (ft. Calving Harris)
- The Vaccines - Wreckin Bar (Ra Ra Ra)
- Metronomy - The Bay
- Warpaint - Billie Holiday
- Beyonce Countdown
- Childish Gambino - Bonfire
- Bon Iver - Perth
- Patrick Wolf - The City
- Nicola Roberts - Lucky Day
- The National - Exile Vilify
- Florence + The Machine - Shake It Out
- The Joy Formidable - Whirring
- Youth Lagoon - Montana
- Yuck - Get Away
- M83 - Midnight City
- Nicki Minaj - Super Bass
- Death Grips - Spread Eagle Across The Block
- Beyonce - Run The World (Girls)
- Dananananaykroyd - Muscle Memory
- College - A Real Hero
- SBTRKT - Never Never
- Wugazi - Sleep Rules Everything Around Me
- Low - Try To Sleep
- Lady Gaga - Judas
- Rizzle Kicks - Down With The Trumpets
- Friendly Fires - Hawaiian Air
- The Chapman Family - Kids
- Mellowhype - 64
- Jamie xx - Far Nearer
- Noel Gallagher - The Death Of You And Me
Just missing out on the Top 40 were the likes of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower”, Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”, “Trembling Hands” by Explosions In The Sky and, erm, “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction… not sure how to explain that one.
You can listen to the list in full on Spotify (minus one or two tracks that aren’t available). Enjoy!
Justin Vernon’s cult phenomenon are only on their second album but probably on about three million bored hipsters’ lists of favourite bands. Not to say that Bon Iver are boring – so far from it. In fact, that the act’s tour sold out in a crazy amount of time (I’m still mad about that). The group’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago was one of the best records of recent years and it seemed so impossible to follow up that people doubted that there would even be a second Bon Iver album. The release of Blood Bank EP a few years back was a taste of things to come but couldn’t really ever forewarn us to the sound of this sophomore release.
The band released “Calgary” a few weeks before the record itself, and fans were astonished at how totally different the song sounded. People wanted more “Skinny Love”, more beardy bloke with a guitar, not a bloody 80s tribute act, complete with requisite cheesy synths. We all warmed to “Calgary” however, and when the full album was released, it was instantly acclaimed. Instantly! Every track on this album is emotional, adventurous and interesting, even closer "Beth/Rest", who’s soft rock sound is more divisive than the Berlin Wall; the stripped back piano-only version revealing a truly beautiful ballad under those saxophone solo. Bon Iver reminds us with every listen that music is an art form, as much as it is an expression of self, and the synergy between the two can be so fluid that you begin to wonder where the feeling stops and where the making begins.
Well, the end of the year is upon us, and what better way to close 2011 than with a long-overdue Hitsville Mixtape! One hour and fifteen minutes of non-stop musical brilliance. Literally non-stop, we’ve finally found the way of turning our mixtapes into one continuous track, so no skipping the songs you’ve never heard.
PS. Those record skips are meant to be on there, alas iTunes made them six seconds long for some reason, so the effect is sort of lost now. Damned technology.