Justin Vernon's trajectory from isolated bearded folkie to pliable Kanye West collaborator is one of modern music's most surprising stories. But without it he never would have been able to make Bon Iver's terrific second album, a rumination of sorts on rural America. Almost all of the songs are named after remote areas ("Perth," "Lisbon, OH"). But beyond that, Vernon paves Bon Iver with horns, synths, and Auto-Tune, in essence capturing the assorted sounds he heard on his recent journeys. Bon Iver's 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, was famously recorded in a Wisconsin cabin, and its late-night winter ambiance was a perfect mix of warmth and separation. Here he expands, pairing his heavenly falsetto to gorgeous, multi-textured melodies on songs like "Minnesota, WI," "Towers," and "Beth/Rest." Simply beautiful. — Michael Gallucci
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