I'll let you decide which is which.
Bon Iver fans HAD to expect that they weren’t going to get another For Emma, Forever Ago. After being heralded as indie rock’s new singer-songwriter Jesus, Justin Vernon spent the year collaborating with anyone he could get into a studio booth, including maximalist hip-hop mastermind Kanye West. There was no way he could come out of that as the same musician. As a result, Vernon no longer seems interested in the quaint acoustic strums we’ve come to associate with his main band. Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the sound of Vernon “going electric,” a 10-track work that aims to blend the synthetic with the organic, creating shimmering sonic vistas instead of ramshackle melodies. “Perth” introduces us to Vernon’s new, fleshed out sound, complete with disciplined marching band percussion, pregnant horns, and smoky guitar work. It doesn’t stop there, “Wash.” revels in twinkling ivories while “Michicant” is a flood of finger picked reverb and see-saw harmonies. Though Vernon seems less focused on Emma this time around, his lyrical images are still as arresting as ever. Bon Iver, Bon Iver seems to be a testament to where he’s been and where he’s going, evident even in his choices for song titles themselves (They’re all places.) On the pristine guitar pluck of “Holocene,” Vernon examines his own worldview and perception with lines like “…And all at once/I knew I was not magnificent.” Ultimately less confessional, Bon Iver, Bon Iver seems to be focused on creating something outside of Vernon’s reach instead of crystallizing a moment in his life. Yet for as meticulous as the album is, it does misfire on occasion, partially because Vernon has jumped head first into new sonic territory. “Beth/Rest” is an indulgent, horn-swathed number that will polarize the most loyal Vernon supporters. Even if Yeezy has taught him well this past year, a sense of self-editing could really aide Vernon in the future. Many of these songs lack the strong resonance of his old material, even if they’ve been expertly crafted. Often mesmerizing, Bon Iver, Bon Iver is the sound of an artist blooming into something special, and like with all kinds of growth, expect some growing pains.
Key Cuts: Perth, Holocene, Calgary
It’s ironic that Lady GaGa would put out a record titled Born This Way given that it’s such a gross misrepresentation of the album’s actual material. Coming across like a suicide cocktail of S&M dungeon chic, lazy Madonna worship, and Def Leppard riffage, Born This Way is GaGa’s desperate/failed bid for mainstream immortality. The problem lies in the album’s construction; Born This Way sounds sonically confused and ideologically labored, two things Mama Monster has avoided up until this point. When the album reaches towards the Top 40, it’s a snooze; “Born This Way” falls flat with muddled beats and sterile programming that would embarrass even Teddy Riley, while “Americano” rehashes the Latin theatricality first explored on “Alejandro,” but with twice as many studio layers. Sadly, the record doesn’t know if it wants to be a crossover smash or take an aesthetic risk. While The Fame displayed a pop star that had a knack for synthesizing various musical styles, Born This Way seems sloppy, the product of a pop star throwing everything together to see what will stick. “Judas” sports the meanest, most metallic dance beat on the record and it’s squandered under a wailing hook that goes nowhere. Surprisingly, the album’s brightest moments are on its second half, when GaGa decides to push atmospheres rather than choruses. “Bloody Mary” is positively sultry with throbbing low-end contrasting GaGa’s rather restrained vocals. Elsewhere, “Heavy Metal Lover” sports glitchy drag beats over a heavy dose of chipmunk soul. Yet the biggest shock seems to be how GaGa has phoned in her once subversive voice, writing an album’s worth of clichés when she used to write pointed satire. The pre-packaged sloganeering on “Born This Way (“Don’t be a drag/Just be a Queen”) or “Hair” (“And I want you to know/I am my hair…”) ring hollow and calculated, cutesy turns of phrases to help move CDs instead of opinions. In the end, Born This Way is less a statement of strong individualism and more a drunken confession of insecurity. Lady GaGa wants so desperately for you to like her that she will kill herself to sell her persona. Too bad it’s not worth buying.
Key Cuts: Bloody Mary, Heavy Metal Lover, Electric Chapel