I must admit I hopped on the Bon Iver train a little late. Singer-songwriter Justin Vernon exploded on the scene, & his band was covered on just about every music blog. I was skeptical, though. The story of the band seemed too damned perfect.  I mean, For Emma, Forever Ago was written following both a band breakup & a personal split and after a bout of mononucleosis. “Consider it the indie success story trifecta,” I supposed. By the time I actually heard “Skinny Love”, I had written off the band as music you’re supposed to listen to while sitting in the shower as you weep, gently rocking away your own pain. And, maybe it is a little bit of that, but upon further investigation, Bon Iver reveals itself as the beautiful & serious statement on our times it is.

Upon repeated listens both For Emma, Forever Ago and the latest self-titled album, I’m reminded about a description I once read about what freezing to death feels like. First, you’re overwhelmed by a sensation of extreme cold and the sheer pain of your extremities becoming frostbitten. Over time, though, you become numb and incredibly sleepy. Oddly, you’ll then begin to feel warm and, eventually, unbearably hot. In a phenomenon known as “paradoxical undressing”, you’ll shed your clothes in a desperate, half-crazed attempt to get comfortable, and, soon after… well, you get the picture. I submit  Vernon’s music is the aural equivalent of hypothermia: icy, drowsy, disorienting, at times painful, and fully capable of driving normal people mad.

The name Bon Iver, which is derived from the French phrase for “good winter”, has a mysterious, dangerous iciness to it, and the music evokes the harsh winters of Wisconsin where the debut album was recorded. The latest album released in 2011 certainly adds new textures (80’s Karate Kid keyboards!) and new ideas, as Vernon recruited outside musicians to help him discover new territory; however, that same mystical, delicate frigidity still pervades the sound. The band may have seemed an unlikely candidate to win the Grammy for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album in 2012, but, in an era of auto-tuned vocals & quantized beats, it’s rather plain to see why Bon Iver caught the public’s ear. Besides sounding like the blue, frozen child of D’Angelo, Peter Gabriel, and a choirboy with a two pack a day habit, Justin Vernon writes honest music that has repurposed the last 30 years of music into a world that is uniquely his own. The fact his live show is considered a religious experience by many who attend just solidifies his reputation as a delicate juggernaut.