by: Stephan Masnyj
Over Soon [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]/ 10 d E A T h b R E a s T (Extended Version)
Justin Vernon’s music has always been a pairing of human emotion with synthetic qualities; the sad autotune crooner with a guitar on For Emma, Forever Ago, or the intimate admissions of love on Bon Iver. With each new project, Vernon’s music continues to blur the line between humanlike qualities and artificiality, a trait no more evident on the two new songs he gave us this past week immediately following the premiere of 22, A Million (Out September 30th) at his Eaux Claire Music Festival.
Much of the appeal of Bon Iver was found in the fragile beauty of the song’s perfect arrangements; every click and strum was fine tuned until every piece felt essential to the song. Conversely, “Over Soon” sounds a bit like an auditory Bricolage; the opening sample crackles and skips at times, each instrument seems to be given its own solo without adhering to any sort of progression, and a humming sample seems to be the only common element holding these disparate elements together. In nearly any other circumstance this song would be an absolute mess, but Vernon’s confidence and voice do wonders in keeping the song grounded here. At the center of it all is that remarkable phrase; “It might be over soon,” high pitched to make it sound like that voice in the back of your head nudging you along. An essay by Justin’s friend Trevor Hagen mentions that the phrase was recorded on a portable sampler during a solo trip in which Vernon suffered an extreme existential crisis. Like Vernon’s best lyrics, the phrase carries an honesty and depth that one must experience themselves to truly understand. The lyric — like the song itself — is stripped of any window dressing and lays its emotional core elements bare for the listener to meld their own personal experiences into its walls.
Elsewhere, “10 d E A T h b R E a s T (Extended Version)” is Bon Iver at its most cacophonous. A plodding, almost clunky percussion gives the song a restless rhythm, while Vernon’s voice is wrapped in so many effects it’s nearly undecipherable. Rolling waves of bass bisect the verses, giving the song a warped, Yeezus-esque quality (which shouldn’t be a surprise given how close Kanye West and Justin have become over the years). Musically, it’s one of the more exciting things Vernon’s ever produced, with a thrilling horn section providing drama to the back end of the track. Lyrically, it’s one of his most confounding. Much like his work with Volcano Choir, clever turns of phrase (“I’m unorphaned by Northern Lights”) are cuddled up right next to some
downright questionable ones (a random bellow of “fuckified” seems to be in this song for no apparent reason, and should have been mercifully left on the cutting room floor). Yet despite these questionable lyrics, the song never overstays its welcome, and it stands as another example of taking Vernon’s characteristics and pushing them to their limits.
Much has been said about how far off these new songs sound from Bon Iver’s previous pastiche, and while the leap here between “Holocene” and “10 d E A T h b R E a s T (Extended Version)” is evident, it’s not entirely unexpected. Much has changed in the past 5 years since Bon Iver went on its Grammy-winning run; Vernon has collaborated with Kanye West, created a new music festival, put out 3 different albums under different groups, and become a producer for other fledgling acts. In a way, by stepping away from Bon Iver for 5 years, the band’s sound and vision has become more vital now than ever; it’s influence reaching a wide variety of music’s biggest names. Plus, who are we to judge Vernon’s creative impulses at this point? We should cherish his wellspring of ideas and appreciate the return of his biggest and best project while it continues to create incredible art. After all, Vernon seems to know more than anyone that it may not last forever.