“Calgary” doesn’t sound much like Bon Iver when it starts. Woozy synths open the newest song from Justin Vernon’s self titled follow up to his 2007 surprise hit For Emma, For Ever Ago. But as soon as the vocals enter the picture it is very obviously a Bon Iver song. That falsetto is unmistakable.
Those of you who are hoping for more of the same from Vernon this time around might be a little disappointed. The back story surrounding his debut is relatively well known. Sad guy gets broken up by his girl and his band and locks himself in his father’s remote Wisconsin cabin and pens a stark and emotional batch of songs that becomes an indie hit.
Emma was all strummy guitars and raw emotion but this new track has more positive energy surrounding it. It sounds like a guy who is finally learning to cope. I would dare to call “Calgary” a happy song (or as close as he has ever come to one). “Open ears and open eyes/Wake up to your starboard bride.” This is a sentiment for a current lover, not for an ex.
Besides the content, the music itself has changed. Those opening synth lines ease into a steady drumbeat accented with some almost cheesy (in a good way) guitar that sounds like it could have been a Purple Rain outtake. His signature guitar strumming and vocal harmonies don’t hit us til around two minutes in, just in time to bring the song up to full tilt.
For its follow up, Vernon could have made and effort to recreate the feel of Emma, but that would have been a huge mistake. That record captured a specific moment in his life and to try to reproduce that feeling years later would have just made the music sound false. It is important for any musician to change and grow musically, but the trick is to keep the music recognizable and I think he has done that here with “Calgary.” Before, I was mildly interested in the new Bon Iver album. Now I am officially excited.
Bon Iver – Calgary