For the latest installment in the 4AD Sessions series, 4AD and Jagjaguwar have collaborated in order to capture a truly unique Bon Iver live performance. On recent tours fans will have become accustomed to seeing Justin Vernon flanked by an eleven-piece band, with the swell in numbers lending a grandiose element to even his most delicate songs. Sidestepping expectations, the idea Vernon presented for the session was to provide a wildly different experience.
Recorded in AIR Studio's Lyndurst Hall - a building that was originally a church and missionary school designed in 1880 by the great Victorian architect Alfred Waterhouse (designer of the Natural History Museum) - Vernon was joined only by Sean Carey, with the pair positioning themselves opposite one another at two grand pianos. Although neither Justin nor Sean’s first instrument is piano, they were able to remodel the songs in a way that showcases their complimentary vocals and, perhaps more strikingly, a seemingly effortless ability to experiment with form and structure.
As such, fans are treated to jaw-dropping interpretations of several songs from both the new album and the Blood Bank EP, as well as a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me'. And interpretation is an apt word, as these songs are artfully abstracted from their original incarnations. Rather than layer the sound as on Bon Iver, Bon Iver, the focus is on paring back, in part evoking the minimalist approach of contemporary classical music, while remaining true enough to the source material to retain those elements characteristic of Bon Iver.
As on ‘Babys’ and ‘Hinnom, TX’, Justin’s trademark falsetto is positioned centre stage, framed by subtle and unexpected instrumental flourishes that render the performance simultaneously weighty and airless. It’s quite an achievement that songs so widely-known and loved in their recorded form are able gain in emotional impact, and stands as testament to Bon Iver’s singular talent.
"Hinnom, TX", "Wash.", "Beth/Rest" (c) 2011 April Base Publishing (ASCAP)
"Babys" (c) 2009 April Base Publishing (ASCAP)
"I Cant' Make You Love Me" (c) 1991 BMG Songs, Almo Music Corp., Bird Blues Music, Hayes Street Music (ASCAP)
The 4AD Sessions are an ongoing series of video recordings with various acts from the label's roster. Following on from the Deerhunter session at the Studio Plateaux on Platts Eyott island in 2008, the recordings will see 4AD artists performing back-catalogue covers and alternative versions of their own material.