My Top 20 Songs of 2011 #13: Bon Iver – ‘Holocene’

Sometimes a song grabs you with just a single line, even if the rest of the lyrics mean absolutely nothing to you, or in the case of ‘Holocene’, seem to mean absolutely nothing at all.

Bon Iver (known to his friends as Justin Vernon) will always be the guy who made a record in the woods. He is to the music world what Henry David Thoreau is to the literary world (*hyperbole alert*) – his art has provided a vicarious fantasy for people who want to imagine getting away from it all, just for a little while, but would prefer to do it from the comfort of their living room.

Since releasing his album from the great outdoors, he has released an album with Gayngs that mixed R&B with soft-rock and sung with Kanye West and Jay-Z. It’s fair to say that we were unlikely to get a similarly stripped down album this time around.

‘Holocene’ is built on layers of guitars, drums and vocals, but despite the vastness of the sound, it is still fragile and beautiful. Then from within the song there is one line in the song that pulls the entire thing back down to earth: “At once I knew, I was not magnificent”. Around this line the lyrics are elliptical, tenebrous and the vocal is slightly muffled, but as he hits this line and his vocal reaches its zenith, everything seems to strip back and pull away. It’s like hearing a cry from deep within fog.

It is magnificent.

2 Responses to “My Top 20 Songs of 2011 #13: Bon Iver – ‘Holocene’”

  1. Sam Says:

    Totally agree with all of this – it’s an astonishing song. It’s not just the vocals that become clearer on that line either, though – the instruments coalesce absolutely beautifully after the one of the deliveries too.

    Reckon it’s also worth pointing out that while For Emma pretty much was just Justin Vernon, Bon Iver really is a full band record in every way, and the playing is brilliant, especially the double drumming. Their performance of this song on Fallon back in June was gorgeous, too:

    • chetantos Says:

      This is why I love doing this blog: not only do I get to re-listen to bloody brilliant music, but I hear new things every time. Re-listened to it after reading your comment – such a beautiful moment.

      That performance is stunning, by the way. Cheers Sam.

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