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Bon Iver

Alternative Rock

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About Bon Iver

Bon Iver in Concert

With his 2007 debut album, Justin Vernon demonstrated the therapeutic, soul-cleansing properties of isolating yourself from the world in a wooden shed. 

Distraught over breakups with both his girlfriend and his band (DeYarmond Edison) while recovering from a bout of mononucleosis, Vernon disappeared into the woods of his native Wisconsin in the dead of winter. He emerged with For Emma, Forever Ago, a disarming set of raw folk-rock confessionals fueled by tense acoustic strums and Vernon's pained, preternaturally soulful croon. (In keeping with the album's frigid recording environment, Vernon adopted the alias Bon Iver — a variation on the French term "bon hiver," or "good winter," which he heard used as a salutation on the 1990s TV show Northern Exposure.) 

The album's unvarnished approach made Vernon an anomaly in a North American indie-rock scene otherwise dominated by the maximalist likes of Arcade Fire and Animal Collective, but its intense emotional wallop reverberated far beyond the underground. After his songs permeated the mainstream through placements on shows like Grey's Anatomy and House, Vernon found himself both getting sampled on and providing backing vocals to Kanye West's 2010 magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. 

That guest appearance transformed Vernon into an unlikely hot property in the hip-hop world, with the singer later turning up on tracks by Travis Scott, Vince Staples, and Lizzo, among others. Between his myriad collaborations and side groups (which include his partnership with The National's Aaron Dessner as Big Red Machine), Bon Iver albums tend to appear only every five years or so. But each one is a major event, signaling a radical change in approach. On 2011's Grammy Award–winning self-titled effort, Vernon's wounded balladry acquired a dreamy, soft-focus splendor, and 2016's 22, A Million recast that velvet-smooth voice against a mutating backdrop of burbling electronics and fractured beats.