Bon Iver – Blood Bank

January 27, 2009

boniverbloodbankWhereas Bon Iver’s 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, was mostly a one man show, this time out Justin Vernon is backed by a full band for this four track followup EP. It’d be misleading to say that the result is a fuller sound, since the music on For Emma, Forever Ago was already densely layered and notably fully formed, effortlessly blending soulful vocals with folk, rock and pop. The best comparison is maybe to Bon Iver’s live shows, where Vernon was at ease collaborating with other musicians and doing varied and often more expansive takes on songs from the first album, the different layers of the songs blending into each other in a way that was perhaps less distinctive, but even more powerful and affecting. The EP’s title track, “Blood Bank,” is the best example of those latter qualities, and it has an almost improvisatory feel, albeit disciplined and controlled. It’s also notably lighter in tone, lyrically and musically. The second track, “Beach Baby,” is musically more along the lines of the first album, albeit all too short, while “Babys,” the third track is a largely instrumental track. The final song, “Woods,” features a virtual chorus of Auto Tune enhanced vocals and is the most soulful tune Bon Iver has yet released. It’s a lovely end to an essential release.

More savvy, sexy dance-ready pop rock from Brooklyn based Morningwood, their first release since their eponymous debut in 2006. The four tracks included on Sugarbaby are all worthy tracks, which bodes well for their forthcoming followup LP, due, well, I’m not sure when, but soon, I hope. The highlights are the title track, natch, and the closing “Best Of Me,” and all the songs are full on rockers, with blazing, muscular guitars and lead singer Chantal’s effortlessly sexy vocals at the forefront. There’s nothing here I liked quite as much as “Jetsetter,” which initially sold me on the band, but it’s clear from this EP that they haven’t lost their knack for making infectious pop music. Bring on the LP!

P.S. If you can see this band live, by all means, do so. They’re a ton o’ fun.

Second EP this year from Brooklyn based singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur highlights eight songs done with drum machines and synthesizers, woven into Arthur’s unique brand of folk and rock, infused with a poet’s sensibility. The result is a cool, sultry and sexy set of music, more soulful and funky than just about anything else Arthur has released in the past. A number of the songs have Jen Turner on background vocals or else dueting with him, to great effect, as she’s a perfect complement to his voice, and vice versa. Greg Dulli also contributes guest vocals to “Nothing 2 Hide,” one of the best tracks included here. I liked Could We Survive, the first of four projected EPs from Arthur this year, but I have to say, I love Crazy Rain. I can’t wait to hear Vagabond Skies, the next in this series, due out next month. Standout cuts (though I like all the songs): “Killer’s Knife,” “Nothing 2 Hide,” “Radio Euphoria” and “Hunter.”

In advance of his seventh LP due in early August, the ambitious, mercurial singer/songwriter Joseph Arthur is releasing four EPs over the next four months, beginning with this one, Could We Survive. It’s difficult to assign a single catch-all term to Arthur’s music since he’s run through a number of different genres since his first pair of albums, which contained world music and electronica influenced folk rock, and especially since he’s gone indie on his own label, Lonely Astronaut (also the name of his sometime band since 2006, albeit in a plural form). He dabbled in psychedelic and acid rock on his last release, Let’s Just Be, a progression hinted at on his first Lonely Astronaut release, Nuclear Daydream. Here on Could We Survive, however, he’s in a more introspective, often stripped down acoustic folk mode, with a mood akin to “In The Sun,” “Honey And The Moon” and “Redemption’s Son.” The EP begins with “Rages Of Babylon,” a anti-war song told from the perspective of an American soldier going overseas, who heartbreakingly wonders “Will my family remember me?” It’s one of Arthur’s best, most moving songs. Other highlights include the title track, a quiet, whispery ballad, and the final track, “King Of Pavement,” a folky tune with a warm, psychedelic feel. Reportedly, the next EP, Crazy Rain, due April 15th, will have more of a techno sound, and as for the two EPs after that, who knows? However, with the arrival of Could We Survive, it’s clear this is the beginning of a very good year for Joseph Arthur fans.