platters (2008-09)

Good Winter

A whiskey-voiced crooner reinvents himself as a soulful indie folkie and Earth progressesâ"slowly.

Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

Before exiling himself in the frontiers of northern Wisconsin for three months, Justin Vernon had been known only as the frontman for the talented but somewhat vanilla Americana band DeYarmond Edison. When he returned to civilization, however, Vernon had named his most recent and largely solo project Bon Iver (a play on the French for â“good winterâ”) and his voice had been recast as the embodiment of soul-searching isolationâ"unseating Sam Beam of Iron & Wine in some indie circles.

In truth, For Emma, Forever Ago does bear a strong resemblance to the gentle, folk ambience of early Iron & Wine, particularly on tracks like â“Flumeâ” and â“Blindsided.â” A key differenceâ"and a critical oneâ"is the transformation of Vernonâ’s singing style since his days as a somewhat generic whiskey-soaked crooner. As Bon Iver, he introduces a ghostly, self-harmonized falsetto that recalls the tight soulfulness of TV on the Radio and the fragility of Antony and the Johnsons. Itâ’s a whole lot spookier and more stirring than Beamâ’s sleepy whispering, and when Vernon really pours on the choral effects (â“Lump Sum,â” â“Creature Fearâ”) it can sound downright spiritual. The whole remote-cabin bit sounds too much like a clever publicity tool, but For Emma, Forever Ago requires no such backstory to earn its keep. (Andrew Clayman)

Earth The Bees Made Honey in the Lionâ’s Skull (Southern Lord)

If indeed there existed a soundtrack for our mighty blue planet spinning powerfully and inexorably on its axis, it would probably come courtesy of the 17-year-old Seattle outfit Earth. Currently a four-piece, the group is better known for its influence on bands like Sunn 0))) and bandleader/guitarist Dylan Carlsonâ’s erstwhile association with Kurt Cobain than for its extensive catalog of diverse and well-regarded independent releases. Begun as a doomy Melvins-esque hard-rock outfit in the grey light of grungeâ’s dawn, the band has cultivated a sound that today has more to do with drone and ambiance than drop-tuned thud.

On the all-instrumental The Bees Made Honey in the Lionâ’s Skull, Carlson and co.â’s bag is repetitionâ"of elegiac, slowly evolving jazz-rock-influenced motifs, thematic interpretations that take place in gradations so agonizingly minute that they can fairly be described as unfolding on a geologic scale, at least when considered in light of the quantum standards of pop music. Each of the discâ’s seven songs encompasses a cycle of introductory theme, incremental refiguring, and resolution, cast with a careful ear for orchestration.

Worthy of special mention are the contributions on three tracks of eclectic electric guitarist Bill Frisell, who opens his bag of lush tonal colorations and makes shimmering magic atop Carlsonâ’s fecund arrangements. Earth creates music of truly uncommon beauty and richness; itâ’s rare that an outfit given over to such prog-ish ambition finds that its reach is so consistently in line with its grasp. (Mike Gibson)

Michael Jackson Thriller 25 (Epic/Legacy)

The 25th anniversary release of Michael Jacksonâ’s Thriller only serves as an uncomfortable reminder of what could have been. In an alternate universe, theyâ’re celebrating 25 as the silver anniversary of a groundbreaking album that raised the bar for pop music. In our universe, Jacksonâ’s most enduring legacy is the bar he set for celebrity meltdowns. (Keep chasing that rainbow, Britney!)

Sure, the original tracks have that crisp, digitally remastered feeling, but Jackson has long since been relegated to environments where small doses of nostalgia can reign unfettered, like bowling alleys and â’80s-themed dance nights. Thriller in this day and age is too tainted by Jacksonâ’s descent into abject weirdness to be enjoyable, no matter how many bonus DVDs or lukewarm remixes of decades-old hits Epic adds to this â“special editionâ” package.

Maybe thereâ’s an audience of oblivious housewives out there who have forgotten why the King of Pop moved to Bahrain, and maybe theyâ’ll move enough copies to help pay off some of Jacksonâ’s debts and finance his progenyâ’s inevitable therapy. (Dave Prince)

Columns

All content © 2008 Metropulse .

© 2008 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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