On June 2nd, at the end of their All Points East Festival set in Victoria Park London, Bon Iver walked off stage as the lyric videos for their two new tracks, “Hey, Ma” and “U (Man Like),” rang out. Together, the two tracks feel like an amalgamation of their prior works. They especially feel like direct descendants of the most recent 2017 album, “22, A Million” with strong influences from the 2007 debut “For Emma, Forever Ago.”
Both tracks feature the unmistakable Bon Iver sound. There is Vernon’s distinct voice and familiar falsetto that flows through both tracks. As well as the electronic and synth influence of “22, A Million” that lies underneath.
Lyrically, Vernon is as rooted in Impressionism as ever. There is still the religious and mythological allusions that Vernon is fond of, however, his lyrics are less cryptic than those of “22, A Million. “ Instead, they are more emblematic of the emotional strength and sincerity showcased in “For Emma, Forever Ago.” They aren’t plainly narrative, but they aren’t impenetrably coded either.
Nothing about either track is unexpected for a Bon Iver release. Instead, both tracks feel familiar, like maybe they were forgotten, lost somewhere in his discography, and Vernon is simply bringing them back to our attention.
Yet the familiarity of the sound and language doesn’t take away from the power of the tracks. “Hey, Ma,” in particular, is a solid track in the Bon Iver discography. It has the grand, almost cinematic, harrowing feel of many of their most recognized tracks such as “Holocene” or “Flume.” There are the recurring themes of youth and “toking with dope” to cope with growing old. The tune is nostalgic, powerful, and certainly worth a listen for any Bon Iver fan.
The second track “U (Man Like)” is less striking. It has a less somber, more pop-influenced sound which lacks the emotional punch of many great Bon Iver tracks. The energy of the track is strongly reminiscent of something you might find on “22, A MIllion.” Much like his last album, “22, A Million,” his lyrics are inquisitive. He pleads “Boy, why this shit’s so hard to cue?” The track is a nice accompaniment to “Hey, Ma” but is less intriguing on its own.
Both tracks were also accompanied by lyrics videos. The one for “Hey, Ma,” fittingly, shows a collection of home videos that highlight youth and adolescence. The video accompanying “U (Man Like)” is reminiscent of the experimental iconography and aesthetic Vernon employed for “22, A Million.” The lyrics appear as a sort of scroll or poem on the screen along with other assorted animations and a visually intriguing clip of a man swinging on a rope swing.
Both videos can now be found on his new website. Vernon also includes other assorted clips and content as well as an extensive list of collaborators among whom are Bj Burton who helped write and produce the tracks, Jake Luppen of Hippo Campus who played guitar, and The Brooklyn Youth Chorus who lent their voices. There is also information on his extended tour dates and a promise of a new LP in the near future.
If these two tracks are a reliable indication of what’s to come, the LP should be less experimental than his last album but still brilliantly sincere and adamantly Bon Iver.