Wednesday, December 02, 2009

BIBJ Playlist of the 2000s entry #14: Wolves (Act I and II) by Bon Iver

Two minutes and 54 seconds into this track, one of the most personally captivating musical snapshots I've ever heard takes place.

This moment takes place within an album about which the back story has become indie folklore.  And indeed, it's pretty much impossible to hear a Bon Iver song without picturing the interior of that snow-covered Wisconsin cabin in your mind's eye.  It feels cold and lonely and necessary.  The remoteness and solitude embeds itself within every moment of the album's 37 minutes, and captures a soul-crushing intimacy that previously hadn't been pulled off since Elliott Smith died.  It is relentlessly authentic and raw in its magic.

Until that moment, 2:54 seconds into "Wolves."

It's more or less the halfway point of the song.  To call the first half of the track a minimalist composition is an understatement.  There are points where you wonder if he'll even continue after the first couple lines.  He gives an extra beat or so to the pacing, and you find yourself wondering where it's all going.  The he resets.  And it happens.

2:54 in.  Twice, on the "What might have been lost" lines, there's that added manipulated lilt to the word "lost."  I've listened to it literally hundreds of times, and I'm still not entirely sure what he's doing there.  Did he simply double the vocal tracks, tweaking his harmonies?  Did he use auto-tune for that one fleeting moment?  (His work on the following EP would suggest this is the most likely scenario.)  Regardless of the origin, the fleeting moment is the only obvious "effect" within the album, and something about it fascinates me, no matter how often I hear it.  Once you initially recognize it, it's already gone. 

The phrase repeats itself over and over.  It's unclear whether he's asking "What might have been lost?" or offering a fleeting lament ("What might have been lost...")  Regardless, it serves as an emotional center while the looped harmonies and instrumentation start going apeshit, swirling around and wrecking havoc on the periphery.  The calming mantra remains undisturbed, anchoring everything down, through the aftershock that closes the track.  As the opening notes are reprised, the storm has passed, and the simple images remain intact.  A cabin.  A chair.  A guitar.  A song.

No comments: