Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bon Iver

  • For Emma, Forever Ago [Jagjaguwar, 2008] C+
  • Blood Bank [Jagjaguwar, 2008] Dud
  • 22, a Million [Jagjaguwar, 2016] *

Consumer Guide Reviews:

For Emma, Forever Ago [Jagjaguwar, 2008]
Re-accessing Robert Creeley gave me a grip on these solitary meditations, which lose definition faster than an angel's breath on a January morn. Beloved by sensitive young men like Justin Vernon, who recorded the album one winter in his father's Wisconsin hunting cabin after breaking up with his band and his girlfriend in North Carolina, the lyrics aren't as lax as one might fear--as in Creeley, the lines are short and the diction is spare. But the turns of phrase are usually cul-de-sacs, the flights into obscurity have bum wings, and do you really prefer, for instance, Vernon's best-in-show "Now all your love is wasted?/Then who the hell was I?" (much less "Only love is all maroon/Lapping lakes like leery loons") to this Creeley ordinaire: "Soon everything will be sold/and I can go back home/by myself again/and try to be a man"? Yea, sigh his admirers sensitively, in musical context, you old cynic. His falsetto, his murmurs, his accompaniment--they're all so lonely, as when he introduces the climactic "Re: Stacks" with a doleful 45-second guitar strum. To which I can only compare Ralph Carney's grooveful, multifaceted 45-second intro to "The Invoice," which in its subsequent minute says more about our shared aloneness than Vernon's whole record. C+

Blood Bank [Jagjaguwar, 2008] Dud

22, a Million [Jagjaguwar, 2016]
So much cuter when his voice is a high pitch in the soundscape rather than a conveyor of putative verbal content ("666[bent downward arrow or else some emoji I'm too uncool to recognize]," "21 MOON WATER") *