The first album from Bon Iver (Justin Vernon), For Emma, Forever Ago, was well-received, drawing comparisons to fellow indie singer-songwriters Iron & Wine (Sam Beam) and Little Wings (Kyle Field) for his soft delivery and introspective lyrics. The oft-repeated story of the album's creation (Vernon supposedly secluded himself for three months in a Wisconsin cabin following a breakup with a girl and his band) has been slightly romanticized (according to a profile in the New York Times, he spent a lot of the time drinking and watching DVDs). Nonetheless, his vague, impressionist lyrics resonated with a varied crowd, including Kanye West. West's prominent sample of Bon Iver's "Woods" for his song "Lost in the World" increased anticipation for Bon Iver's eponymous second album.
For me, the increased expectations for Bon Iver were largely met. Like many sophmore albums, Bon Iver takes more risks sonically, and this is most evident on "Perth," the album's opening track. Rather than the stripped-down bare guitar of many of the song from For Emma, "Perth" begins with an an electronic riff, which Vernon returns to a few times in the song. As the song builds, more layers are added as drums and horns eventually reach their climax, until the sonic breakdown towards the end. The final riff in the coda caps the song off nicely.
Like most Bon Iver songs, the lyrics are much more like a collection of impressions than an explicit story. Vernon's falsetto delivery is definitely sets the mood for the first half of the song, though the repeated lines "Still alive for you" are delivered more powerfully with multi-layered vocal tracks over a stronger beat. After the second repetition of the refrain, the vocals take a back seat to the instruments for the latter half of the song.
I enjoyed the switches between bare, intimate vocals and the overwhelming multi-layered instrumental sections. With Perth (and the new album as a whole), Bon Iver has successfully built upon his first album, evolving his sound and delivering more than For Emma, Forever Ago II. Bon Iver shows obvious electronic influences, which are surprisingly well-suited for his ethereal voice and lyrics.
See also on the album: "Wash." which features a violin and a repeated piano strain.