No Surf Music


The No Surf Review


The Lowdown:

Bon Iver

Who (on first), What (on second), I Don't Know (on third), Justin Vernon (thinks it's all about him)

Based In:
Eau Claire, Wisconsin



Bon Iver

Release Date:
June 21, 2011


Previous Releases:
For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

Indie rock

Bon Iver, Bon Iver album cover

Rating: 3 out of 10



June 22, 2011


Bon Iver: Bon Iver

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Justin Vernon, frontman for Bon Iver. The band's press kit includes no photos of any other members, not only because they are unworthy to be pictured alongside such an esteemed personage, but because there are so many of them that they just won’t fit. Photo by D.L. Anderson.

When I was in college I frequented a tavern off the well worn path traveled by my classmates. A faded portrait of F.D.R. looked down on the patrons, the ancient wooden bar had innumerable battle scars and the stools had the creaky character of a million belly ups. The bartenders were old-school guys who had been slinging brews and pouring liquor for decades, all real Southerners who remembered when Atlanta hadn’t just been a corporatized outpost of the North with warmer weather. They didn’t much care who you were, they didn’t shoot shit, and they didn’t take any crap. They just wanted to know what you wanted to drink and they gave it to you.

One of these gentlemen was even crustier than the others, rotund and wizened with a full beard and unsmiling visage. He made the rest look like enthusiastic kids. He probably served Sherman a Kentucky bourbon while he watched the city burn.

In four years I don’t ever think I heard this guy utter a word that didn’t directly relate to the topic at hand: booze and the imbibing thereof. He would take your order, carefully repeat it to make certain he’d heard you correctly, and return with drinks in hand, saying, “There y’all go. Be seven dollars on the nose,” as he set them down. Everything was slow and spoken in the deep drawl of the North Georgia Mountains. Even those two sentences seemed to stretch out forever.

One little quirk was this guy’s pronunciation of the word “Dewar’s,” the name of a popular brand of blended scotch. Anybody who’s ever drunk the stuff knows it’s pronounced “Doo-r’s,” with the Scotsman’s lilt all but obliterating any hint of a second syllable. Anyone who’d spent a lifetime slinging the hard stuff (and possibly brewing up his own “dew” in the backyard) would certainly know that. But he refused to take anyone who wore a plaid dress at his word and stuck with the way a Southerner would say it, a very long, drawn out “Deh’WAHR’s.”

I bring this up only because I have a similar quirk when it comes to the subject of this review, Bon Iver. The name is pronounced in a Frenchified mishmash, like “boney VAIR.” It is derived from bon hiver, meaning good winter. Apparently the damn frogs don’t know what they’re doing with their own language, so frontman Justin Vernon simply changed it to something even more ridiculously vainglorious than it sounds. Despite the fact that I often use words like “vainglorious,” I refuse to let anything that pretentious cross my lips and so consciously choose to mispronounce the band’s ridiculously affectationous moniker the way my old bartender would, as “Bahn EYE-ver.” The same logic explains why I will never perform cunnilingus on any member of the Kardashian family.

This too-cute-by-eight-and-a-half name is, however, perfectly suited to the kind of music produced by this critical darling, which is an absolutely useless stream of drivel characterized by far too many sounds moving completely out of sync in a directionless cacophony that lacks any discernable form.

The band now has nine members. That’s a baseball team, not a rock band. All of them seem to be playing different songs at the same time. The music tries to be everything all at once and so only succeeds at being nothing.

Even worse, the vocals are often delivered in an awful falsetto so high that no postpubescent human male should be able to produce such sounds. Even Geddy Lee probably thinks it’s a bit much.

Furthermore, the words are completely unintelligible, proving that Mr. Vernon cares no more for his lyrics than his music. It doesn’t matter how many critics acclaim your writing or say that you are insanely in touch with the human condition, if the listener has to use every ounce of energy just to decipher a small portion of the words and still has to consult a lyric sheet then those words are nothing but incomprehensible blather.

Bon Iver is the poor man’s My Morning Jacket, which puts them just one rung above “feces-throwing monkey” on the scale of artistic worth. On the other (excrement-covered) hand, the monkey gets credit because at least he knows he’s a monkey, while many seem to think Vernon is some sort of prophet.

The pretention doesn’t even wait until the music starts on the band’s newly released sophomore effort, but comes right with the name: Bon Iver. An eponymous debut is one thing… it’s not that creative, but it’s a statement that this is who we are and this is what we do. After a band’s first release, however, it’s just stupid and lazy. In this case, it seems to be saying, “You’ve heard of me. You’ve read every half-assed critic in the country describe how he jizzed all over the first album. Just give me money.”

Making it worse, many of the songs on the album are titled with place names such as “Perth,” “Calgary,” or “Lisbon, OH” that may or may not have anything to do with the music. This kind of “look at how clever I am” trick may endear one to the conceited assholes who tend to become music critics, but this conceited asshole just believes that it demonstrates that Vernon has absolutely no interest in his songs actually meaning anything. It's just fluff with no substance.

As for the music itself… whatever. That’s the closest I can get to a reaction. I didn’t wrench the headphones from my ears and vomit all over the room, but I was so unenthralled that I couldn’t pay any attention to it whatsoever. The fact that I could pick out at most 10% of the words didn’t help to keep my interest. It may best be described as metaphorical mood music that only produces one emotion, and that’s boredom. I did like a few of the individual instrumental licks embedded within several of the songs, but they’re buried so deeply underneath the incongruous jumble of the rest of the clatter that they are soon lost completely.

Justin Vernon. More than enough words (and critical ejaculate) have been wasted on him already. Photo by D.L. Anderson.

There’s not a single track that could be described as “enjoyable.” It’s music to listen to while you have your head in the oven. People describe it as exquisitely gorgeous, but that’s because it obviously tries so hard to be beautiful and they believe the hype. It’s really just over-thought and cluttered. Beauty is much more powerful when it is terse, simple, and meaningful. Bon Iver is the musical equivalent of a poser art movie like “American Beauty.” It tells you in no uncertain terms that it is creative, edgy, and highly artistic, and that you will be viewed as an intellectual (who gets plenty of hot women) if you feign to like it. However, compared to a real masterpiece, like, say, “Once Upon a Time in the West,” it is nothing.

In NPR’s recent poll of “The Year’s Best Music (So Far),” Bon Iver came in fourth, despite the fact that it hadn’t even been released at the time. The overall rankings prove without a doubt that 99.9% of people have absolutely no taste in music, but the fact that an album that maybe some respondents had heard streaming on the NPR First Listen page ranked so high proves a specific point: that people like Bon Iver because other people like Bon Iver. They don’t even have to hear it to know they like it. It’s what the cool kids are into and that’s all that matters.

I don’t know about you, but I never wanted to hang out with the cool kids. They were all supercilious douchebags. And a lot of them apparently grew up to be music critics and Bon Iver fans.


Don't buy Bon Iver. It sucks. Instead, consider Akron/Family's Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free, which doesn't!
mp3 cd vinyl


No Pop. No Crap. No Surf.