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Source Material

Source Material: Bon Iver, 'Bon Iver'

by Stephanie Benson

Source Material: Bon Iver, 'Bon Iver'


During its first week out, Justin Vernon's sophomore album under the name Bon Iver couldn't quite knock Adele's 21 off the top of the Napster charts, but it did overpower albums by pop queens Katy Perry, Rihanna and even Lady Gaga. That says a hell of a lot for a humble Cheesehead who just a few years ago was holed up in a cabin in the dead of Wisconsin winter, lovesick and depressed as he crafted Bon Iver's celebrated 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. It also says a lot for an album that unabashedly takes cues from schmaltzy '80s soft rock and earnest singer-songwriter fare. There's certainly no glitz or glam about Bon Iver, but it's nonetheless a minor pop sensation capable of riling up people who normally wouldn't care about just another indie dude. (Though contrarians have been quick to accuse Vernon of being a bearded hipster hack, a shameless Bruce Hornsby/Peter Cetera/Phil Collins revivalist, or gasp! just plain boring.)

Vernon's guest spots on Kanye West's 2010 hit My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy certainly helped elevate both his profile and his art; he's been quick to cite that partnership as a great influence on what became Bon Iver. That doesn't mean West fanatics will necessarily fall for this decidedly more hushed aesthetic, but it does mean that Vernon's been inspired to push his music into a much more collaborative and expansive territory just look at the record's long list of contributors, who provided their expertise in everything from vibraphones to handclaps.

That newfound group dynamic is also partly thanks to Gayngs, the Midwest supergroup started by Ryan Olson and featuring Vernon as an occasional collaborator. The group's 2010 debut, Relayted, is a throwback to '80s soft rock that blurs the line between cheese and sincerity, proving incredibly successful in an indie landscape completely obsessed with every other form of '80s nostalgia. With that foundation and Vernon's open adoration for Bonnie Raitt (see his recent cover of her "I Can't Make You Love Me"), it's no surprise how a gently nostalgic Bon Iver track like "Beth/Rest" came to be.