Bon Iver Everywhere
If I had to name one artist who is singlehandedly (and surreptitiously) moving Folk forward, I would have to say Justin Vernon.
For those of you unfamiliar with Vernon, aka Bon Iver (a bastardization of the French term Bon Hiver which means ‘good winter’, and pronounced Bone EEver), he crafts exquisite, heartbreaking ballads that sound like something from the bottom of a long forgotten well in a snowy land. The ache and loneliness come through with his wounded falsetto and spare instrumentation. For his first album For Emma, Forever Ago, he literally holed up in a cabin by himself in the woods in Wisconsin in the middle of winter. His latest, self-titled release expands upon that sound with slightly more instrumentation, but is no less haunting or captivating. So if you were to set up a checklist of ‘Making Folk Music’, pretty much all the criteria would be met, except for, you know, having a hammer. I wouldn’t trust him with that.
None of what I’ve explained above would make one think that this guy would come to your town and sell out two thousand seat arenas in 30 minutes, BUT HE DOES. EVERYWHERE. To mainly twenty and thirty- something year old hipsters. He’ll play the Austin City Limits Festival in the middle of the day when it’s 100 degrees and 20, 000 people are standing still with rapt attention, while a rock festival swirls around them.
Now here is another twist: he’s buddies with Kanye West. Yeah, that guy. Vernon appeared on West’s latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and added even more texture to an already over the top production. Do you like Kathleen Edwards? So does Vernon, who produced her new album, Voyageur.
Fleet Foxes, The Head and the Heart, Laura Marling and their compatriots are the overt choices as hipster indie folk torch bearers because there is precedent. They sound like Donovan or Crosby Stills and Nash. But Vernon is already a pretty big deal and he’s done it by not sticking to genre.