On 2008’s critically adored For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver (a misspelling of the French phrase for ”good winter”) was just Justin Vernon, a folky Midwesterner recording in an isolated cabin in the Wisconsin woods with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a broken heart. Then came Kanye West. The superstar unexpectedly invited Vernon to lend his bendy pipes to last year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, featuring his original vocals on several tracks and bringing the scruffy, unassuming singer on stage for several high-profile live performances.
Now, on Bon Iver, his second full-length, an emboldened Vernon achieves a beautiful fantasy all his own, backed by a full band and buoyed with horns and pedal steel. While it’s too bad none of his newfound rapping pals found time to drop by — the spectral ”Holocene” is practically begging for a smoky Rick Ross cameo — his widened perspective is evident as he reaches across genres like his benefactor reaches for headlines, from proggy balladry (”Calgary”) to yacht-rock jams (”Beth/Rest”). On the swirling pity party ”Perth,” Vernon layers and manipulates his haunting voice like a beardo T-Pain, his forlorn lyrics (”I’m tearing up, across your face/Move dust through the light/To find your name”) transforming into something enveloping and, eventually, uplifting. A?