A famed story of indie success, Bon Iver came into being nearly ten years ago from a lonesome period spent in the Wisconsin wilderness by struggling musician, Justin Vernon. Most know the record that came from this period of isolation and, as Vernon put it, “excavation,” For Emma Forever Ago was a breakout hit and an emotionally powerful record. The follow up, released in 2009, was a four track EP titled Blood Bank. Supposedly the title track of this EP was a left over from the For Emma period that Vernon didn’t feel fit the album. Regardless, Blood Bank, helped open doors for Bon Iver (Kanye, for example, used “Woods” for the song “Lost in the World” on his 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), and became a pretty notable record in the indie world during 2009 as it pleased fans that were begging to hear more.
The EP opens up with a chilling F minor chord and the characteristic, Vernon harmonies. “Blood Bank,” the title track, is the first Bon Iver song I heard (like most I’m sure) that featured strictly electric guitars. The hush, winter sound, though, is still retained miraculously due to Vernon’s clever lo-fi production and beautiful songwriting. The lyrics revolve around a relationship that is going through, what seems like, an accidental pregnancy as the first chorus goes, “That you secret that you know, that you don’t know how to tell. It fucks with your honor. It teases your head. But you know that it’s good girl, cuz it’s runnin’ you with red.” But, what would seemingly be a stressful situation for most couples, the tone of the song seems to portray the couples’ love becoming stronger from what’s happened. The second chorus answers the first by saying, “That secret that we know, that we don’t know to tell. I’m in love with your honor. I’m in love with your cheeks. What’s that noise up the stairs, babe? It’s that Christmas morning creaks?” The thing that really gets me about this song and the majority of the tracks on this EP, is how it builds to its climax—almost like a roaring fire in the dead winter refusing to fizzle out despite the harsh winds and low temperatures.
“Beach Baby” returns to the acoustic whispers that were the foundation to Bon Iver’s original sound. The song continues the feeling of warmth that is prevalent on this EP with the verse, “Only hold till your coffee warms, but don’t hurry and speed. Once a time put a tongue in your ear on the beach—and you clutched clinging heels.” After this verse we get a beautiful lap steel guitar solo that could drift you off to sleep with how soothing it is.
“Babys” gives a hint to what Bon Iver’s sound would evolve into with their second, self-titled album in 2011. The song repeats the line “summer comes to multiply, to multiply,” as it builds with hammering pianos and lush, full harmonies. The sound is similar to the trickling of water down long, melting icicles that staked their ground back in the peak of winter. Spring is coming and they’re holding on to the house or trees they’re connected themselves to for as long as possible before the heat melts them away until next winter. This trickling leads us into the final track of the EP, “Woods.” A song unlike any other Bon Iver creation, “Woods” is a choir of auto-tuned voices that slowly build the single verse, “I’m up in the woods. I’m down on my mind. I’m building a still to slow down the time.” This song truly shows off Vernon’s vocal range as we hear the deepest growls mixed with the highest of emotional moans that make this choir ring with passion that literally shakes your bones (if you throw it on full blast in the car, that is). It ends the EP perfectly with the lowest harmony getting the last word before cutting to reverb silence.
Blood Bank is a perfect transition between the two sounds we’ve heard out of Bon Iver thus far. It’s the brief period between winter and spring where the sun breaks from the bitter overcast and begins to melt the snow away. In itself it’s a successful record, generating a concert staple (the title track) as well as a unique song that mainstream artists would later sample (“Woods”). With Bon Iver being on hiatus since 2012, the only hint we’ve gotten at what the next sound will be was the brief single “Heavenly Father” that appeared on the Zach Braff film, Wish I Was Here. There was actually a recent announcement about the band returning for a festival Vernon is putting on up in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which is leading to speculation that the band could be finally dropping a third LP in the near future. Regardless, this EP is always a solid record to return to during the winter months when you’re sick of the cold and anxiously awaiting the warmth of spring.