The Good Vibes of Bon Iver

black and white crosley turntable

Despite not really being a music critic, and feeling more than a bit under-qualified to provide fair and unbiased analysis of what I happen to be spinning today, I’m going to record my impressions. As frustratingly incomplete as they may seem and certainly feel to me, writing them gives me a sort of practice and escape from my more typically dry and analytical style that has plagued the great majority of my article work over the years. So, bear in mind these are first impressions of hearing a vinyl record, many of which I’m familiar with from digital media, but others not so much at all.

I was familiar with Bon Iver through the song “Hey Ma” that Thomas and I have in our morning Playlist rotation. So, when we ordered three of their albums on vinyl records,  I expected some chill music to vibe to, and I wasn’t disappointed. The first record we spun, “i,i”  features the song “Hey Ma” around the middle of Side A. The record felt very raw and emotional to me, with creative lyrics and great instrumentation. The only song that really stuck with me on first listen was still “Hey Ma,” but that may be more of a product of extreme familiarity that biased my early impressions of the record. 

This is one that I’ll definitely need to spin more than once to get a fuller impression of it. Considering how much I’ve found to say of the next two records, I need to return here for a future vinyl vibes musing session. That’s the beauty of vinyl – it’s at first like walking down an unfamiliar street with a few features that begin to make you feel at home, but it’s also like hanging out with an old friend the more you spin it.

The second record we spun was actually the previous album, “22, A Million.” I immediately recognized the title track at the very beginning. “22 / Over Soon” as another song from our chill morning and bedtime playlists. It’s followed up by a very much heavier track in “10 / Death Breast.” I’ve always appreciated tracks with heavy bass lines so I really liked that song. “715 / Creeks” goes full on synth on the very next track. It’s incredible to me just how quickly the album changes pace, yet it happens so seamlessly.

The 4th track is yet another one familiar to me from our chill Playlist, “33 / ‘God’.” It’s probably one of the most musically interesting tracks on the record for me. Listening to it on vinyl definitely made me appreciate it much more musically. The 5th and final track on Side A “29 #Strafford Apts” was quite the lyrical journey that I’ll be puzzling over a bit for sure.

Side B was even more of a lyrical and musical journey, with a few lines that may become future titles borrowed for compilations for my musings, especially “F*** the Fashion of it, Dear” from “999 / Cross.” Perhaps the most impressive song of the record lyrically is “8 / Circle” which coined the phrase Astuary King. It’s a song all in itself I should return later to muse about. “45” has a dreamy almost spooky folk quality to it that I’ll likely come to appreciate even more with time. The final track was yet another one familiar to me “100000 A Million” from our bedtime playlist. It has some of the best lyrics of the record, including the lines “it ain’t gonna buy the groceries” and “when the days have no numbers.”

Our third record we spun was actually the first record in order of release, “for Emma, forever ago.” The first track is one I immediately recognized, and perhaps one of Bon Iver’s best known in “Flume.” I’ve read that many people feel like “Hey Ma” is a sort of followup to this tune, and I totally feel that vibe now that I listen to it in retrospect. “Lump Sum” is a solid tune with great lyrics that I’ll want to dig my analytical teeth into more in the future.

The third track is one I’m quite familiar with, but oddly enough for the cover by Birdy, “Skinny Love.” I’m not sure which I like more, because the piano backed Birdy cover is a completely different animal. In fact, I hadn’t fully realized they were actually the same song until recently. “The Wolves” is a sombre acoustic number with perhaps one of my favorite lines of Side A in “can’t you find a clue when your eyes are all painted Sinatra blue.”

“Blindsided” feels like a tune I associate with, as I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been blindsided in my life. It’s a very raw tune. “Creature Fear” is one I’m still processing lyrically and need to return to in time for another vibe session. It’s followed by the title track “For Emma,” which is yet another one familiar to me by virtue of being played on a near daily basis as a companion at breakfast. 

The final track of the record, “re: stacks,” is one that piques my interest lyrically, and as an amateurish poet and lyric writer myself, one I feel compelled to break down almost to the point of academic dissertation. Why you may ask is answered by the quite literal meaning of the first line of the song: Kumran refers to the location of where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. I doubt I’ll write a doctoral dissertation dissecting this tune, but I certainly would take the time if it were academically necessary.

Over time, these impressions may evolve, most often without warning, as I seek to finally create the right vibe with the choice, order, and flow of my words. Music often brings us to emotional places we don’t visit enough and when we reach them it’s sometimes quite hard to put the feelings into words. I feel my words are never quite precise enough and the more I vibe with my vinyl companions I hope to gain more of an understanding between the vibes between myself and the sonic waves that emerge from the grooves. In any case, in writing these vibing, musing pseudo essays gives a sort of self permanence for these moments of self discovery. These more often than not may be little more than self indulgence. But, you only live once so you may as well share the best of the vibes you feel with others that could use a bit of inspired musicality, even if the words aren’t always quite precise enough to serve that purpose. 

What are you vibing with today?

Related: Veering Vivaciously into Record Collecting | Vermont Vinyl (Ad)ventures

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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