Our Top Ten Bon Iver songs looks at the work of one of the best indie folk bands of the last decade who have been in existence since 2006. Although they are classed as a band, lead singer and songwriter Justin Vernon is the primary driving force behind Bon Iver. He first came up with the idea for the project after the breakup of his previous band DeYarmand Edison.
Bon Iver’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago was released in 2007 and received much acclaim from the music press. Their career has been a largely sporadic one. Their self-titled second album was not released until 2011 and a year after that they announced that they were going on a hiatus. Their third album 22, A Million was released in 2016. Their most recent album I,I was released in 2019.
Throughout their career so far, Bon Iver have taken their fanbase through many different musical journeys. Their rise from an obscure act to a very popular one is the result of Justin Vernon’s very dedicated vision of what he wants Bon Iver to be. Although not the most consistent of artists, their output has always been worth the wait, as they have yet to produced any bad material. Although they do have their distinctive style that runs throughout their work, they have yet to become formulaic, always expanding on their sound and coming up with amazing results.
When you consider that Bon Iver was first started as a therapeutic outlet when Justin Vernon was living as a recluse, it is pretty amazing that they are now a Grammy nominated act who have collaborated with the likes of pop superstars such as Kanye West and Taylor Swift. So without further ado, let us look at the ten best songs of this truly brilliant and groundbreaking musical artist.
# 10 – PDLIF
Kicking off our top ten Bon Iver songs list is this standalone song that was released in 2020. The song contains a sample of Alabaster Deplume that is looped throughout. The title stands for “Please Don’t Live In Fear” and proceeds from it went to an organisation called Direct Action which provided resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.
# 9 – Calgary
When Bon Iver’s second self-titled album was released in 2011, Vernon felt particularly proud of this song feeling that he had really accomplished something. It definitely has all of the makings of a hit. It shows that he has the potential to become a successful mainstream star, but ultimately he wishes to remain a true artist.
# 8 – 00000 Million
This oddly titled track is the closing number of the band’s third album 22, A Million released in 2016. The song is a very haunting number that is purely piano-led. All of the songs on the album have numbers in the title and in this last track Vernon sings a line about going to “a place where the days have no numbers.”
# 7 – Re: Stacks
Our next track is the closing song from the band’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago released in 2008. All of this album is very minimalist in sound, and this song is basically a Justin Vernon solo song with just him singing and strumming on an acoustic guitar. It is a beautiful song which feels optimistic and melancholy at the same time.
# 6 – For Emma
Ending the first half of this list we have the partial title track from the first album. The “Emma” in question is a former girlfriend of Justin Vernon and the song’s lyrics detail a conversation that happens between them as their relationship falls apart. It is another very melancholy sounding song that sees Justin really wear his heart on his sleeve.
# 5 – Holocene
Beginning the second half of this list we have a song that was released as a single of their second album. The song received much acclaim from critics upon its release. Much respected website Pitchfork named it as the best song of 2011. It was also nominated for Record of the year at the 54th annual Grammy Awards but lost to “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele.
# 4 – Bloodbank
Here is the title track of an ep that the band released in 2009. It is a rarity in the Bon Iver catalogue as rather than being about the breaking down of a relationship is about the fruition of one. It was written during the writing process of the first album but was not included on it because Justin Vernon did not feel that it fitted right with the rest of the record’s material.
# 3 – Beth/Rest
At number three is the closing track of the second Bon Iver album that was its fourth and final single. The song received a mixed critical reception and was considered to be a very divisive song likely due to its rather different sound for Bon Iver. Justin Vernon stated that of all the songs on the album, it is the one that he is the most proud of.
# 2 – Wash
Just off the top spot is this beautiful piano ballad that is also taken from the second album. Justin Vernon’s vocal performance over the top of the instrumentation just gives it that sense of perfection that it truly deserves. Although the track is haunting and minimalist, it also has an epic feel to it which is just amazing.
# 1 – 22 (Over Soon)
At the top of our Bon Iver songs list we have the opening track from 22, A Million. As far as album openers go, you don’t get much more brilliant than this. After the release of the first record a few years earlier, Justin Vernon was in a state where he was struggling to be inspired to make more music, but these struggles for inspiration turned out to be just what he needed when he happened to say about the band’s career that it “might be over soon” which is the main line in this song.
Top 10 Bon Iver Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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