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Had the marketing team not gone with the whole 'recorded in an isolated cabin' schtick I wonder if 'For Emma, Forever Ago' would have quite had the same impact? That record's quiet desolation seemed to strike a chord with folks everywhere, even with the Tesco brigade (sole UK distributor of the new Status Quo album by the way). So where now for the man with the squeaky voice? Having chosen to self-title the record (usually done on a bands fourth album when they want to get 'back to basics') and featuring a painting of a remote cabin on the sleeve - possibly driving the point home a little too hard - this is a much more realised album with full band in tow. Today's Independent newspaper states rather boldly that Justin Vernon is perhaps the most important figure in popular music, it's good to see the press not given over to hyperbole too much. It's clear that Vernon is a man with talents at his disposal. He's at his best on songs such as the drifting 'Holoscene' where he lets the music breathe, interspersing carefully layered vocals at intervals over picked guitar. This record has none of its predecessor's desolation, it's full, warm and nicely tuneful. I'm reminded quite a bit of Peter Gabriel (and so by osmosis TV on the Radio) and of Beirut in the horns that pick their way across the disc. What is lacking until a few songs in is a sense of yearning and melancholy which returns eagerly once the additional instrumentation is dropped and what is impressive is that Vernon has squeezed up the happiness while not entirely isolating the listeners turned on by the earlier misery. His voice will be an acquired taste, being somewhere between Tunde Adebimpe, Adam 'Dose One' Drucker and a church mouse but he does seek to find other ways of vocalising, one frustrating thing is that the lyrics are impenetrable due to the falsetto delivery which means you can never really hook yourself into the songs. Warm '80s synths are used and occasionally we are way into 'Streets of Philadelphia' territory, one song sounds exactly like Peter Cetera. Overall, its pretty much what the marketing man ordered, a varied, sonically warmed, happier Bon Iver with scrubbed production values and a handful of decent tunes, whether the yacht rock tendencies push it a little too far into 1984's mainstream remain to be seen.
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