Bon Iver

Blood Bank (Jagjaguwar)

The title track of Bon Iver's new EP is an example of mastermind Justin Vernon's songwriting at its best. The tune is a delicate ballad, rich in sentiment but completely schmaltz-free. Musically, it comprises layered vocals over a melancholy, descending guitar strum — with just a hint of percussion keeping the pace — while the lyrics focus on touching, universal observations: “Then the snow started falling, we were stuck out in the car/You were rubbing both my hands, chewing on a candy bar.” Vernon's hushed croon renders even the most potentially cringeworthy emo poetry poignant and effective.

In just four songs, Vernon lives up to the potential of Bon Iver's debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, an album that perched atop many critics' top-ten lists in 2008. Blood Bank finds the band flirting with some new ideas. “Beach Baby” is a mellow country ditty, while “Babys” turns a slightly discordant piano melody into something lush and emotive. But “Woods” offers the disc's biggest surprise. Here, Vernon's a cappella, vocoder-affected vocals do mechanical sentiment 100 times better than any single on Kanye West's latest. The only criticism Blood Bank invites is that it ends all too soon; but the EP's brevity could also be a virtue, leaving listeners craving more.

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