Best of 2011: Music

Here are what some of the WSN music writers picked as their favorites of 2011:

by Daniel Fuchs and Ritu Ghiya

Two WSN music writers give their thoughts on Bon Iver’s album.

Not since Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” has there been a record that so fully exemplifies freedom. Justin Vernon returns with profoundly emotional, introverted songwriting, just as he did on “For Emma, Forever Ago,” but there is a new sense of liberty, perhaps an empowerment, in the music. Where “For Emma” used isolation as an emotional tool, “Bon Iver” is filled with rich, layered landscapes, guitars flaring over keyboards, percussion, and, occasionally, synthesizers. Every track, whether the intense “Perth” or the gentle “Michicant,” is lush, oozing with indescribable beauty, creating a contagious sense of power and energy.

But perhaps what makes “Bon Iver” so special is the emotional journey that this record communicates. “Perth” begins on a grandiose note, rocketing forward into what seems like a void where the soft sensitivity of  “Minnesota, WI” and “Holocene,” the joy of “Towers,” and the isolation of “Michicant” sweep us off of our feet. The record takes us through the rough, echoing “Hinnom, TX,” and the haunting “Calgary,” leaving us once again in a void by the time we reach “Lisbon, OH.” But suddenly, there is “Beth/Rest,” a booming, Prince-like ballad, a homecoming after a long journey that validates the entire experience.  “Bon Iver” is emotional, liberated, innovative and luxuriant, but above all, it is simply satisfying.

-Daniel Fuchs

After his “Skinny Love” fame in 2008, Justin Vernon became a staple in the indie music scene. And with his self-titled CD under Bon Iver, that dominated my listening in 2011, he has definitely cemented himself as a legend.  The tracks represent a collection of art, worked through and perfected so beautifully. Just a listen at Grammy-nominated “Holocene,” the single “Calgary,” or the upbeat “Towers” instills an indescribable emotion only Bon Iver can seem to create: a mix of nostalgia for a past and excitement for a future. He creates a beauty, so specific to his style of multi-layered instrumentation and voice, completely poetic in nature. “Holocene” repeats a line that presents itself so prominently in his collection: “At once, I knew I was not magnificent.” It’s this particular humanness that makes his music so relatable. So, please, by all means, bring out the tissue boxes and weep to Bon Iver’s truth, like, I’m sure, everyone who’s a fan has done this year.

Take time to witness his power live at his appearance on “Later with Jools Holland”:

-Ritu Ghiya

Daniel Fuchs is a staff writer and Ritu Ghiya a contributing writer.  Email them at


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