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Available on 12" vinyl and CD

Available on 12" vinyl and CD

Reclusive singer-songwriter Justin Vernon has taken a slightly unorthodox route into musical acclaim. His debut album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ was recorded almost entirely in a remote cabin, isolated from the world after falling sick with mononucleosis and breaking up with his girlfriend and band.

Without even intending to write or record, Vernon came across the French name Bon Iver and experimented with music in a bedridden state. The result was a haunting, echoing acoustic debut that somehow comforted and frightened the listener all at once.

Blood Bank was released in January 2009, a follow up four track EP that branches Vernon’s lyrical themes into new ground. While ‘Flume’ was sombre in tone “I move in water, shore to shore/ nothing’s more” this EP’s title track is full of hope. In a chance meeting that leaves him caught in the snow with another woman, the words are uplifting and speak of innocent feelings. It’s a shame that the unnerving electronic scratches and scrapes have been removed, but in the song’s context it works just fine. The ghostly humming and minimalist chords sway into the intro and as soon as Vernon opens his mouth, you know that all of his signature elements are in-tact.

Fans are rightly sceptical that after so much success, this EP is just a way to keep people’s interest ticking over. The inclusion of a backing band means that this short collection feels more generic, understandably a safe bet after such an experimental predecessor. Without the background ambience of Justin Vernon moving around his cabin or the harsh weather just beyond the windows, some of the atmosphere that made his work so desolate has been lost. However, the Fleet Foxes style of vocals and sweeping pace means that even with a small step backward, this is a rung above the rest

Justin Vernon, 28, from Wisconsin

Justin Vernon, 28, from Wisconsin

It falls to the a capella ‘Woods’ to really bring out the glimpses of Bon Iver’s mastery. Harmonised with multiple layers and repeated time and time again, it never grows old as the lyrics spin out for nearly five minutes. Beach Baby is a fairly standard affair, sounding very reminiscent of Blindsided from his previous release.

Cryptic lyrics of “But don’t lock when your fleeing/ I’d like not hear keys” will leave even the most keen enthusiasts with differing interpretations. The 16 minutes running time ends with Babys, a track with a teasing piano introduction just waiting for the vocals to ease back in. The lyrics exit on a moral high, leaving Blood Bank with a strange sense of resolution.

Newcomers should definitely check out the superior ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ first, but this EP is still a worthy addition to the American’s portfolio.

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November 2017
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