By now, you’ve heard of Bon Iver. And maybe you’ve heard about the cabin in Wisconsin, the whole backstory. But if you haven’t actually heard him, you’re missing the important parts: the atmosphere, the songs, that gorgeously rough-hewn falsetto. Frankly, there’s a reason it’s called the backstory, a reason why they say it’s the story behind the album – the music’s at the forefront, so it better be good.

And it is. It seems to me the album succeeds largely ‘cause Justin Vernon knows what to do with his voice. On “Blindsided”, he sings agony like he can barely lift the word, like he really is crippled and slow, like a crouching crow. “Creature Fear” sounds like a man begging for relief, ‘til he can’t make sense of it, ‘til he won't fight it, ‘til he’s just fa-fa’s and whistles. And “Lump Sum” – well, those strange, blossoming voices are the song’s raison d'être, if anything is.

And yet for all the textures, the home-spun sonic tricks, the intricacies Vernon weaves, his starkest composition is also, somehow, his most startling. “Re: Stacks” boasts an arrangement so bare – nothing more than six strings and two vocal tracks – but there’s something in that falsetto, something in the sudden flick of back and the racks and the stacks. Something approaching purity.

I discovered this music through a familiar morning routine: downloading tracks from various blogs, queuing them up and listening, mostly absent-mindedly, multitasking; I won’t pause from what I’m doing until a song grabs me. That morning, only “Skinny Love” managed the task. The Stylus review notes Vernon’s occasional bellicosity, and I hear it most here, in I told you to be patient, and I told you to be kind. (And I, and I.) Don’t want to spoil the proving for you, but I’m jostled each time I hear it.

Streaming: http://www.virb.com/boniver

Vernon has a blog, too: http://creaturefear.tumblr.com/

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