Oh, Right, So About That Bon Iver-James Blake Collaboration

08/25/2011 4:19 PM |


When crowned crooner-producer wunderkind James Blake posted a cryptic message over his Twitter account last week hinting at some sort of collaboration with Justin Vernon, indie’s other shrilled-voiced man of the year — giving us little to go on besides the words “Fall Creek Boys Choir” and the date “24th August 2011” — the sun was expected to explode yesterday. The mountains were to move, the sea was to part, our purpose on earth was to be made clear through the power of two emotionally purging musicians.

Instead what we got was the premiere of a song called “Fall Creek Boys Choir” on BBC Radio 1, featuring Vernon harmonizing with his heavily Auto-Tuned self and Blake doing whatever it is that people are constantly praising him for behind the boards. The track itself is old news by now (you can listen to it below), but the overly enthusiastic reactions to it are still mind-boggling to me. There are already 914 “likes” on the Pitchfork post alone. Really?

The isolating, understated drama that both artists thrive on is present here, I get it, it’s “raw.” But even the auto-tuned bits aside, it comes across as manufactured to me. It sounds bland. And there’s a part of me that can’t help but pull an “I could do that” response to Blake’s minimalist production work. I don’t understand how we got to a place where this is what’s getting people excited about music right now. Someone help me, explain it to me, what do you love about this song? What’s the deal with the barking?

11 Comment

  • The tone changes felt in the music, presented by Blakes mastery production skills, are based solely on the tension between the varying texture, timbre,and volume of the sounds/samples being crossed.

    Simple complexities, such as the same sound/sample/dogbark? being repeated, but at different times in varying time signatures.

    Slow and concise, to the point, backed by beautiful melody. Fame makes it popular, and i don’t think electronic music is “natural music” or even real music sometimes, however, it’s not just auto-tune. He plays with it, and brings some very experimental tones to the forefront, and he isn’t afraid to make the audience think about whether or not they like that note. Then ya got Justin and his voice is sicko so who cares, listen to “Perth” and forget about this track.

    I love it.

  • if you could do it, then do it.

  • The “I could do that” response is a good thing. Much like the best athletes who make it look easy, it can be the same in music production. Blake’s virtuosity is not found in Malmsteen-like guitar solos, or Sufjan’s recent symphonic efforts. Rather, it is in his often subdued minimalism. He makes it seem natural. However, if you give his music a few more listens, a lot of densely layered intricacies start to come forward. May I suggest upgrading from laptop speakers and earbuds?

    And the fact is, nobody in electronic music has made records like his. The umbrella-termed genre is still young, but is finally reaching adolescence. Many thanks to those at the musical fore.

  • @Arthur Mmm, even having listened to this on some killer quality studio headphones, I have to agree wholeheartedly with Lauren. Don’t get it.

    I think that’s just the case with Bon Iver/James Blake. You either get them or you don’t. To me, Blake’s production comes off as plain ol’ gimmicky. Whatever initial tension is created by the pauses, hesitation and weirdly-timed punching in wears off after 15 seconds when it begins to sound like what might happen if you submerged a big, old-school, beeping hummer of a PC in a bathtub.

    But, cheers to those people who genuinely enjoy it–whatever melts your butter. Still, I feel like all the buzz surrounding this dude is bordering a little on lunacy. We can probably find “virtuosity” anywhere if we’re told, almost ubiquitously, that that’s where it exists.

  • RE: “I could do that”


    Deal with it.

  • What’s there to not get? You don’t understand singing from the soul? Creating art? Doing something fucking different. All of you women are the same

  • I think Bon Iver’s the boring part, really.

  • i couldn’t do it, but that doesn’t change how underwhelming it is.

  • Isn’t that “barking” a cuica — a Brazilian percussion instrument? I think people need to understand the music before they should start insulting it.

  • That sound is not a dog, it’s a cuica.

    Why do people feel the need to bash something they don’t understand? It’s not an accident that it’s been “liked” nearly 1000 times on Pitchfork.

    This is not a radio hit – it’s a slow burn. Next year, when whatever song is no.1 on the charts now has faded into obscurity, this will still be relevant.

    Listen to the harmonies.

    If the production seems minimal, then James Blake is doing his job right. Less is more. I doubt you can name everything that has been done to this track to make it sound the way it does.

    And the auto-tune – it’s intentional. It’s an effect, like reverb or overdrive is to a guitar. The voice is the most basic instrument, who says we can’t use it like any other?

    Take it for what it is.

  • I think not “getting it” may mean you just don’t like it, which is fine. Musically, minimalism, air, space, exotic instruments, etc are tools to the tell the story – especially in Blake’s area of electronic music – or just music period, considering the fact that he plays instruments. There hasn’t been much change in guitar based music in the last 20 years, but if you like or are used to guitars in general, this isn’t a glaring fault. I think Blake and Bon Iver’s popularity right now is based on their ability to present a newish variation on established themes.