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Bon Iver: The Man with the Impressive Falsetto

A personal reflection on the music of Bon Iver

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It is the most exciting thing in the world when one of your favorite artists releases new music. It is also a great excuse to look back through all your favorite tracks and reminisce what made you fall in love with them in the first place. It all started when Justin Vernon decided most aspects in his life were turning to shit and he needed to escape. He packed up some basic belongings and recording equipment and set to his father’s cabin in the woods for three months. Following this is a great example of why everything happens for a reason. Because of these troubling turn of events for Vernon, For Emma, Forever Ago (2007) was created, and the music world was brought a completely new genre, Bon Iver. The authenticity of this artist’s music shows that he has created an entirely new genre for himself. There is nothing exactly like him, no two songs follow the same strict path, yet every song stays unapologetically him.

For Emma, Forever Ago is one of the best albums of recent time. I have no evidence supporting this claim, except for the fact that it is my opinion so it must be true.

You can feel the emotion poured into every single word, every single strum, every single beat. Everything on that album is there for a reason and there to make you feel something. It is probably his simplest of music, but it clearly proves that less is more. A chorus of Vernon’s voice fills your ears, and all your emotions come running to the front. Besides the point of what we feel as listeners, it is Vernon’s emotions that are most important in this album and it is an incredible privilege to share what he has produced.

Following from the impressive first album, Bon Iver retained the standard just as high with his second release. The self-titled album delivers a mesmerizing performance, keeping the same tone as the first album, an echoing voice, and emotion-filled lyrics, but with excelled mysticism. I believe this album set us up for what was to come down the line; his lauded 22, A Million (2016), we just didn’t know it yet. There are hints of different electronics and different paces, which make perfect sense after hearing all he has produced, but at that moment, I don’t think we knew what this album really set us up for.

Blood Bank (2009) represents the scariness and nervousness of love, and this song is a prime example of feeling through music. As told to Bustle, “I think that that secret [in the chorus] is the answer to all those questions. Why is this sacred and why does this feel larger than myself and larger than what I can even put into words … I think it’s the connection that we have to each other.

We can consider Vernon as a spokesperson for/of our generation. He speaks truth and feeling and makes countless connections in his music.

To this point, Bon Iver followed a similar musical line of style. We were comfortable with what we knew Vernon could produce… and then five years later, 22, A Million came out and my initial response was… shock. It was a surprise how different this album sounded to all of his music up to this point. Yet he seemed to keep the integrity of Bon Iver intact. This was the point of evolution. This was the changing wave that proved just how amazingly creative this man could be. I really didn’t understand the album’s direction when I first listened to it. I was almost a little disappointed, but when you get past the initial feeling of ‘why didn’t he just bring out something like his first album’, and you really listen to each individual song, you grasp the enormity and talent at hand. There is more commotion, more electronic additions, processed voices, and the less than traditional structures in the songs. It is why I appreciate this album so much. It follows no rules, it has a unique sound and one song can take multiple directions within itself. Who knew electronic folk could work so well?

This trip down memory lane was prompted by the release of the two new singles “U (Man Like)” and “Hey, Ma”. Two utterly fantastic songs. A marvelous combination of early and current Bon Iver. “U (Man Like)” oozes original Bon Iver with piano and acoustics, but hints a modern twist. Whether or not it was intended, the song has a sense of optimism. It is light, but without skimping on genius.

It is impressive to release two new singles at the same time and for them to be so varied, yet work together. “Hey, Ma” leans towards the modern side of Vernon. It would fantastic to hear this song in an acoustic setting, stripped back with just Justin and his guitar. This song shows how you can use electronic additions to a song to compliment, without overdoing it.

Bon Iver has never lost the integrity of his work. The music has always stayed true, no matter what stage it was in. Vernon has created fragile yet strong music at the same time. Pitchfork stated; “This project began with a single person, but throughout the last 11 years, the identity of Bon Iver has bloomed and can only be defined by the faces in the ever growing family we are.”

Bon Iver is ever evolving, and his outlook on music and life is something worth following. Every album/release grows without losing that integrity, regardless of how diverse it is, and there is always excitement for what will be released next. He is Bon Iver, the man with the impressive falsetto.

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Good Riddance – Thoughts and Prayers

The fire still burns brightly for Good Riddance

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It would seem that the current US administration has proven to be fertile fields for political punks. If there is a positive to have come out of the past few years, it is in the form of angry punk rock records. The aptly titled Thoughts and Prayers, the new record by Good Riddance, could very well be the best of them. For many like myself, Good Riddance was the gateway to a world of punk rock socio-political commentary; wrapped in aggressive, melodic hardcore that opened your mind as much as it punched a hole in the wall. 1996’s A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and the really terrific 1998 record Ballads from the Revolution, were eye-opening propositions for a wide-eyed kid. Good Riddance resonated because their songs were hard-hitting commentary that sounded like broken-hearted punk rock songs. They sang intelligently about inequality, human despair, and the sometimes broken system in which we live in. And when their broken-hearted punk rock songs weren’t about society and politics, they were broken-hearted punk rock songs about broken hearts (don’t think there have been love songs as good in the genre as “Jeannie” and “Not With Him”).

Four years since their comeback record, Peace In Our Time, we get the much more furious Thoughts and Prayers. 12 songs of trademark breakneck melodic hardcore that talks about the divisive current political climate without going as far as saying things like “Trump sucks”. But that’s never been the Good Riddance way. Vocalist and chief lyricist Russ Rankin has always found a way to express his anger and disappointment with poise and intelligence- sounding more like a well-read poet than a man yelling on a street corner.

In the track “Don’t Have Time”, he sings about the futility of repeating history to trumpet nationalism; “And those same old fears arise / With eyes too drawn to counteract / The ghost in you comes rushing back / Too caustic to subside / Just what have we done? / We killed a mother’s only son / Just to remain at number one“. And lyrically, much of takes a similar route of well-written stanzas that question a lot of what is going on in the world at the present time. Songs like the opening “Edmund Pettus Bridge” (let’s hope everyone knows the significance of this landmark), replete with Michael Douglas Wall Street sound byte, sings of social inequality but does it with a trace of hope. While songs like “The Great Divide” are an example of melodic hardcore’s finest moments; unrelenting sonic pummeling that is as melodic as it is potent. “Wish You Well” takes cues from Good Riddance’s “softer” tones of catchy choruses and mid-tempo verses; akin to the track “Saccharine” (from 2003’s Bound by Ties of Blood and Affection). Perhaps the best thing about the 12 songs here is that they are all very succinct, potent, with rarely a moment of filler. The album is consistently good, and while it rarely deviates from the Good Riddance sound, it never lacks in the fire and fury we’ve come to expect.

The album itself SOUNDS fantastic, credit again to Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore at The Blasting Room for their production. The guitars rip at the right levels while the percussion work hits just right. The mixing levels are as close to perfect as you can get without any one element dominating over another- a constant the band have found since 1999’s Operation Phoenix (no surprise, the first of their albums to have been produced at the Blasting Room).

The appeal of Good Riddance has always been two-fold. Firstly, their music has shown steadfast quality, and the albums have found longevity due to the way Rankin and company write their songs. With lyrics referring to and talking about a multitude of humanist issues without having to directly reference them, they remain political, timely, writing music as urgent as it was through the 90s as it is today. That may be a sad indictment of society itself, but it doesn’t take away from their effectiveness and influence. Rankin himself has said that their music may not have changed the world per se, they continue to open eyes and minds. This writer can attest to the latter- and the importance of that can’t be underlined enough. Their early discography spoke to my generation about life, self, and the interconnected reality of the world we live- no matter how hard to try not to believe it. Thoughts and Prayers is a furious, timely, and potent slab of hard-hitting melodic hardcore and shows that the fire clearly still burns as passionately for Good Riddance as it did all those years ago. And perhaps it’ll be what A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and Ballads From the Revolution was to me for a whole new generation.

(Fat Wreck Chords)

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Hatriot – From Days Unto Darkness

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities

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When it comes to Bay Area thrash metal, there are two bands that sit atop the mountain forever entwined to its history; Metallica and Exodus. Both bands linked together by Kirk Hammett, both bands crucial to the Bay Area’s most destructive form of music. Exodus may not have their name in lights as Metallica does, but Exodus’ influence cannot be mistaken- and many point to them as being the one true progenitor of Bay Area thrash. Hatriot, a band that was started by Exodus vocalist Steve Souza in 2011, are a real chip off the ol’ block. Surprisingly, it isn’t just musically that Hatriot follows suit from Exodus, its a family thing too. While Steve Souza left Hatriot in 2015, his sons Nick and Cody continue on percussions and guitars with the latter taking on vocal duties once the older Souza returned to Exodus.

Hatriot does more than just follow on the Exodus path; they’ve loudly carved their own slice of the thrash pie. Led by Kosta Varvatakis shredding guitar work and Cody Souza’s blistering (sometimes ominous) vocal work, Hatriot may have found their Fabulous Disaster, ironically, also three albums in.

From Days Unto Darkness is a relentless pummeling of thrash metal’s best qualities; machine gun percussion work (I’m a sucker for some great double bass drums), shredding guitars, soaring solos, and vocals that does the growling well, and the screaming even better. Tracks like “Organic Remains” and the blistering “Carnival of Execution” showcase the band’s ability to craft songs that are equal parts urgency and solid musicianship. Thematically, From Days Unto Darkness covers the usual thrash metal spread; the end times, death, destruction, and humanity’s failing graces- all done with equal breakneck, ear piercing destruction sonically. “World, Flesh & Devil” is perhaps the album’s best outing- a raging beast of a song, that if carnage could be written in music form, this is it incarnate. At 4:26, it is one of the shorter tracks of the release, but much of the album features in at the 6-7 minute mark- a trademark of thrash metal’s desire to not only showcase talent but to do it over extended periods.

What the album lacks perhaps is that one magnum opus of a track. Sure, it’s not easy for any band to write “Master of Puppets”, but From Days Unto Darkness rarely takes a breather. It’s mostly positive, but while Master had at times, slow interludes to let you catch your breath, Hatriot takes absolutely no prisoners- staying true to their thrash metal heritage. If you’re not quite up for it, this album will hammer you into a stupor.

The halcyon days of Bay Area thrash metal may be long resigned to nostalgic documentaries, but Hatriot are not interested in just being a throwback to their roots. From Days Unto Darkness is not for the weak and if this is the sign that thrash metal is alive and kicking, then the future and present are in damn good hands.

(Massacre Records)

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