It's been a big few years for Wisconsin's Justin Vernon. Seemingly out of nowhere, the indie folk artist's debut For Emma, Forever Ago, became a colossal-selling crossover album and even made it on to several notable best-of-2000s lists.
Not bad for a collection of songs recorded by himself one winter in his father's remote cabin, while recovering from glandular fever. It goes without saying that Vernon, who recently guested on Kanye West's ambitious My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, had his work cut out when the time came to record Bon Iver's follow-up.
His solution, it seems, was collaboration. As well as recording with a full band, Vernon also enlisted the services of the occasional Arcade Fire saxophonist Colin Stetson and the lap steel player extraordinaire Greg Leisz. But from the gorgeous and grandiose opener Perth onwards, it's the drummer (and fellow indie folk singer-songwriter) Sean Carey who stands out.
Vernon's unearthly vocals and melodies are perfectly accented by Carey's often idiosyncratic rhythms. From the robust soul of Minnesota, WI to the beautifully building Calgary, Vernon has lost none of his skills as a songwriter, but gained the depth of sound that his ideas always deserved. The only dud is Beth / Rest, a Toto-like ballad drenched in ghastly 1980s production, but even when not at his best, Vernon still has more to offer than most.