Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When Bad Sax Happens to Good People (Or: Bon Iver)

The new Bon Iver has hit the internet.

I heard the single "Calgary" just yesterday and, like Jon, had initial reservations. However, I have a track record for drastically underrating albums that prove to be terrific: The Suburbs; High Violet: The Wild Hunt... my utter lack of musical foresight has been fairly consistent.

When Jon alluded to Phil Collins in relation to the new Bon Iver I was a little taken aback. But not nearly as stunned as when I made my way through to the last track on the album. It has literally left me speechless. It's like Phil Collins took some pretty Justin Vernon vocals and then regurgitated elevator muzac all over them. I think I can even hear a saxophone in there... or at least a clarinet. Oh my, could it be both?? Hard to tell through the layers of 80s power ballad synth. Maybe it's a joke track? Irony? You be the judge...

For the love of god, why didn't somebody stop them?

Needless to say, the album is very different to For Emma. Pleasant but insubstantial, on initial listens. I also don't understand why they're still going crazy with the vocal overdubbing - every track has Vernon's voice layered 10 times. Sure, do that when you're recording alone on a cabin with a laptop but now? I'm going to give it a few more listens. After all, the cover art is very pretty and he did give us Re. Stacks and Skinny Love... I'm calling it early on Beth/Rest, though: that track is gobsmackingly awful.

Jon has now written a full album review here. I second everything that he says. Maybe Vernon really did do it all for the Glory of Love.

***POST SCRIPT*** 8th MARCH 2012

For anyone who finds themselves on this page by searching for Bon Iver's saxophonist (and Blogger tells me there are a lot of you), his name is COLIN STETSON. Having just seen him perform live tonight (Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne), I would like to retract the negative implications this post may have made about him eg. "Bad Sax" in the title. He is an incredible player, demonstrated by a killer solo midway that was nothing like what 80s rock songs would lead us to believe it should sound like. That said, Bon Iver's Bon Iver is still not the album for me.


Jonathan said...

No, it's part of the album if you check all the stories on the track listing. It reminds me of Your Party by Ween, which was a pisstake of yacht rock. Although, there seems to be no pisstaking here (nor yachts), just badness...

Adam R said...

Plus, "Your Party" is awesome - catchy, and both parodic and reverential (a special move only Ween seem able to pull off). Whereas this is just...yeesh.

Then again, I found Emma, Forever Ago (or whatever it's called) to be a pretty undistinguished bunch of strummity-strum-strum tunes with weak arrangements redeemed by his voice.

Writing this as the song in question comes to a close...this sounds like closing credits music for an 80s action film...that guitar sound...irony?....I dunno...

Adam R said...

Having said that, I'm far fonder of "Calgary". Nice drum sound. But that guitar again!

Katie said...

Yacht rock?? Every day I learn a new music genre. Your review is terrific, JH. I actually think I prefer Pete Cetera to Bon Iver.

"Strummity-strum-strum"! Too funny. I'm still holing out in the hope it's all ironic. But I don't think it is. As Jon pointed out, once you her the album in it's entirety you realise the whole thing is leading up to that last track. There are warning signs everywhere.

But I agree, the drums in Calgary are pretty great, if not totally redemptive.


Adam R. said...

I know this sounds stupid, but...I tried leaving this comment on Jonathan's blog, but it wouldn't let me sign in - no anonymous option, no name/url option. So, here's my comment for Jonathan's Band of Horses post on your blog. IF this isn't the stupidest thing ever, well...


Occasional-commenter-on-Katie's-blog-and-now-your-blog Adam here...

Everything I've heard from Infinite Arms has been pretty meh so far, but Cease To Begin sounds even better these days...which is impossible to prove, time-wise, but let's proceed...

It's the sort of no-tricks rock n roll record that sounds completely untouched by fashion or irony. Other than a song named after a basketballer ("Detlef Schremp" - and Jonathan, are you a Parks and Recreation fan? One of the strongest eps revolves around said b-baller...digression over) it's a really pleasingly straight up and down record. Great simple flying opener ("Is There A Ghost"), some excellent stop-start rockers with a strong sense of song dynamics ("Ode to LRC", "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands") and, of course, the pretty song (No-one's Ever...")

That's all I have to say: yes, I like that record.

I should visit the blog more often - everything I read here I like. Really good stuff Jonathan.


I wanted to say it, so there you go.

Love to y'all.


Katie said...

Aw... loveliness!!
I will be sure to let JH know. Also, because you yourself were once a blogger, Ads, you can probably use your blogger id to comment on his blog.

You can even sign up and become a follower. And follow Jon wherever he may go.


Emma said...

I like it!

HighStrungLoner said...

*saxophone. Please. Check yer spellin'.

Katie said...

Cheers. When bad spelling happens to good people...

Maorka said...

It's a very familiar sound to me, though not Phil Collins whom I hate. More like a cross between new age music (Enya) and early Bruce Hornsby. I actually like it.

Anonymous said...

Why does it sound like Kenny G is playing in the background?

Anonymous said...

The song is obviously not just a mistake, and something that happens to sound bad because they were not aware of the muzac label. It's very bold and different, and very ahead of its time by using these references actually. Yacht rock, Phil Collins, what some people would call "muzac" has all been very happening in many forefront circles for some time now. I think Bon Iver's take on it is interesting. That doesn't mean you'll have to like it, but I'm sure many will get what he's trying to do here and think it's really cool.

Love from Norway!

b.Lo said...

I swear to god, I've been listening to this same crap from you audio-wonk weenies my whole life.

This is a fine follow up selection from Bon Iver.

The first time someone said this line of negative knee jerk nonsense, one of your parents [why not, the rotten apple never falls far...]said to me that he thought DARK SIDE OF THE MOON was "commercial" and that Mettle was much better.

Its always for the same reason. You discover something good, way ahead of the curve. Then by the time the follow up shows, you are put off by the bandwagon jumpers crowding your former place above the fray so you can't wait to re-stamp you individuality not to mention your elevated taste. So you take all that Bon Ivor has slaved over, and in your words, puke all over it.

Oh you are a hipster.

Katie said...

Wow b.Lo, thanks for stopping by and introducing me to the phrase "audio-wonk weenie". It's very youthful. I agree that my "puke" reference was unfair - it was a knee-jerk response to a sound that is, as my new Norweigan visitor pointed out, an unexpected turn for contemporary music (Hi to you, Norway! Thanks for your words).

I feel bad about that. Bon Iver (I believe they spell it with an "e" not an "o") no doubt worked very hard to construct the album. It's great that some people like this new direction.

Congratulations on making a musical reference that pre-dates grunge but I don't believe I accused Bon Iver of selling out. I believe my point was that the instrumentation and arrangement of this album felt anachronistic and was not to my taste.

I don't mind when "bandwagon jumpers crowd my former place above the fray". I just don't like saxophones.
I feel they should stay in Robert Zemekis films from the 80s where they belong.

b.Lo said...

Dearest Katie,

I did spell it both ways, one was incorrect. Touche.

I am willing to take you at your word and of course you are under no obligation to praise something you don't care for.

I can go earlier than Pink Floyd but no one wants to go through that.

Dark Side, was just the perfect example of the sentiment.

APERIAN said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm grateful for your disclaimer of your ability to drastically underrate albums that prove to be terrific!

foodietta said...

Ha, I'm obsessed with Bath/Rest and literally had in on repeat for hours. I read on NPR that Justin Vernon compared it to Bruce Hornsby, which is pretty dead on. I don't know why, but I love it.

Katie said...

Haha! Really? I just read about the Bruce Hornsby influence too. I'm not familiar with him.

The Pitchfork verdict is in and with a whopping 9.5, the folks over there seem to agree with you all even if I'm still on the fence.

Apparently what I initially interpreted as aimless and oblique (and a little cheesy) is purposeful and triumphant.

I might give it another listen and see if I "feel it without understanding it" as P4K assures me I will.

But after that I'll probably just get on with living my life.

kais said...

It just sounds like "No One is to Blame" by Howard Jones to me. And that's not a bad thing.

Katie said...

You're right, Kais. It's definitely of that genre.
Thanks for visiting.

William Reichard said...

Also shades of Division Bell-era Pink Floyd. And not in a good way.

If the next retro wave is going to hark back to this, the worst music ever made -- ever -- then god help us all.


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