The latest transcript from the judges’ meeting, as our panel get to grips with the second Bon Iver album.
Allan Jones: The debut album was famously recorded in a shack in Wisconsin, and kind of set a pattern for rural backwoods recordings.
Tony Wadsworth: Shack rock!
Allan Jones: Haha! The new album is a much more collaborative effort, with a 10-piece band, altogether a more expansive and dramatic sound, almost cinematic at times, very dense occasionally. But it doesn’t seem to have surrendered the cardinal virtues of the first record. The intimacy of the lyrics seemed to strike a resonant chord with a lot of people. The album did amazingly in America, it went to Number One.
Tony Wadsworth: I really liked it, partly because he’s done what Fleet Foxes have failed to do, in that he’s actually moved on. This is such a different record, but his voice is so recognisable that it maintains a consistency with the first record, he’s not left people behind. The thing I get most from this album is that I’m really interested to see what Album Five is going to sound like, to hear what he does next. He does this song at the end which is not like anything else on the album, which reminds me of Todd Rundgren, it’s all ’80s guitar, even sounds a bit like Prince. Thinking back to the first album, it was the last thing you’d expect, so I think he’s got a hell of lot more breadth than I got from the first album, which was intimate and charming, but this actually opens things up a bit. No, it opens things up a lot. It might be boring to keep saying something is really good, but I think the whole shortlist is really good.
Phil Manzanera: I never heard the first album, although it’s a name I see all the time, but I found this record totally refreshing. My first impression was that I loved the musical context, although I found the high falsetto voice a bit grating, I prefer it when he sings in his middle register. I love the playing on this; the arrangements are fantastic, as is the music underneath them. I tried to look at the lyrics but I couldn’t read them, so I never really worked out what he was singing, but there’s so much great music here, the guitar licks are to die for. It’s an album I can put and know that it will stay with me, which most of these albums wouldn’t, but this one seems to work on many different levels.
Mark Cooper: I agree with everything Phil says. Great musicality, brilliant arrangements, three or four great cuts but maybe not enough. “Calgary” really stands out. I suppose again it’s a case of with the second record, how do you match the back story of the first? The first one was all about the woman who’s broken his heart, but although this grows in depth somehow there isn’t the same magic for me. I really wonder if artists like Bon Iver or Fleet Foxes will ever recover from their first records, because there’s something very particular about what both of them do and I don’t know if you can really build a career around that tone. You can make a great record, but can you really sustain a career?
Nick Stewart: I’d love get Brian Eno’s reaction to this record, because if you, as I did, turn it down to almost inaudibility it has a sort of curious whine to it. I’m sure Brian would be able to write screeds about the tonality of it. There’s a warmth to it which, to my ears, is exactly the same as the Fleet Foxes record. This a slight progression from the first album, and what would be interesting is to play the two of them again side-by-side in about five years’ time and see which you prefer. It’s not quite doing it for me, in terms of this list, it’s not up there with some of these records. Also, some of these records are very similar, this is similar to the Bill Callahan and we’ve got the Josh T Pearson record to come.
Stewart Lee: I agree, and of the three I think the Josh T Pearson is the best of them. It’s difficult with Bon Iver, when there was such a romantic story attached to the first one and you find yourself wondering if it was that story that sucked you in to it. I don’t want to spend too much time on it, because of the records that are like this I think the other one we haven’t talked about yet is better.
Linda Thompson: I think he’s very good, he’s a nice bloke, and I like that he’s made a jump from the first record. This one isn’t as acoustic. I think I still need to listen to it more, it’s probably one of those records that will grow on me more, given time. I like the whiney voice, the falsetto, because it’s not practised, it’s not slick. I like it, but I don’t love it.
Allan Jones: A hard record to love?
Linda Thompson: I don’t think it’s a hard record to love, I just didn’t love it as much as, say, Polly Harvey. It’s amazing that it went to Number One in America, I’m so happy for him.