When Justin Vernon retreated to a remote cabin in the woods for a few months in 2007 to recover from a) mononucleosis and, more significantly, b) a broken heart he isolated himself from the world and wrote the first Bon Iver album For Emma, Forever Ago. While that album was defined by a stark, yet beautiful, bleakness its follow up is far more expansive than its predecessor.
While the elements are the same, Bon Iver(the album) shies away from the claustrophobic atmosphere of For Emma and fills every inch of the sonic space with instrumentation, none of which is more dominant than Vernon's signature dream-like falsetto which remains the centrepiece of each track. Even the song titles, all named after cities, are in stark contrast to the singular log cabin identity of the first hinting that, both figuratively and literally, Vernon is in a very different place to where he was when he penned his debut.
The album opener Perth begins much as you'd expect a track on For Emma to. But its gentle guitar licks are soon interrupted by a military-like drum roll, hinting that the song is about to explode into life and, when it does, Vernon has rarely sounded better. Holocene is perhaps the most elegant track among the 10 song collection, five minutes of gentle melody which gives way to a crescendo (by Bon Iver standards, at least) of drums and horn.
The subtleties of the recording technique employed by Vernon on this record maximises the effect of every instrument in the mix. Wash., for example, contains exquisite string arrangements, a gentle piano melody and almost inaudible shaker, which acts as almost subconscious percussion and only becomes truly apparent after repeated listens.
While some fans of the original Bon Iver album may have trouble with the newfound fuller sound Vernon has discovered, the emotional sincerity which attracted people to For Emma has been carried over untainted. While that log cabin served Vernon so well on his debut, there is a whole other world outside the door and he's found it.