When last seen around here, in October 2007, Bon Iver was the obscure, self-released solo project for a guy best known as a member of a band called DeYarmond Edison. Yeah, not many people had heard of them, either. The album was released by Jagjaguwar Records in February ’08 and then in Europe by 4AD in May. Let’s say it strikes a chord with a lot of people. Within a couple of years, the guy is in the studio with Kanye West. I can’t claim to have seen that coming.
“Calgary” opens as a benediction, Vernon blessing us with that aching falsetto, layered on top of itself, in a cathedral-like setting, with only an organ-like synthesizer as accompaniment. Percussion joins in around 1:14, centered on some rumbly tom-toms, along with an extra, twangy keyboard and some hints of a fuller band. The main melody, which repeats throughout the song, acquires a beat and a momentum that it did not hint at in the church-ish opening section. This to me is the power and delight of the song—that seamless, “how’d-he-do-that?” transition from prayer to proclamation, achieved by the very careful, if casual-seeming, entering and exiting of instruments and sounds. By the time the full band arrives in earnest around 1:53, the repeating melody has acquired a whole new kind of solemnity, a solemnity based on movement and rhythm rather than incantation. The electric guitar comes out of its shell for an itchy sort of solo at 2:23, leading into a bridge during which—don’t miss it—Vernon drops the falsetto. The song ends over an acoustic guitar that was previously hidden in the mix, giving both Vernon’s voice and the song’s melody one last iteration.
“Calgary” is the first single from the long-awaited second Bon Iver album, which is self-titled, and slated for release next week on Jagjaguwar. MP3 via the record company.