Exclusive First Look at Bon Iver‘s Digital Deluxe Edition

The popular indie band will digitally release ten short films to accompany their new album

  • Share
  • Read Later
Kristy Sparow / Getty Images

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver

I’ll admit it, I was late to the iPad party. I didn’t quite know how I would ever use a tablet — or why. But having owned the device for the past two months, I’m starting to realize that many media companies have also been grappling with the same questions of how and why, and that this has inspired a flurry of creativity and innovation in various sectors. Hollywood has given us UltraViolet DVDs, which allow buyers to access movies via multiple devices from the cloud; the networks have released TV apps that have put hundreds of hours of footage at my fingertips (I’ve watched more nightly news segments in the past two weeks, thanks to NBC News’ app, than I have in the last 10 years combined); and public radio has reinvented itself as a multimedia experience (the NPR app seamlessly fuses podcasting, livestreams, video and text features).

In the music industry, a new experiment begins Tuesday, when the band Bon Iver, which came to fame in large part through a leaked album that went viral online, releases a “Deluxe Edition” of their critically acclaimed second album Bon Iver via iTunes. Composed of ten short films – one surrealistic montage per track – that are ideally suited for iPads (or any other device that downloads from iTunes), this package has evidently been assembled with the belief that even fans who may not have spent money on the actual songs might be enticed to shell out a couple bucks for the visual accompaniment.

TIME was given early access to the short films, and producers were kind enough to allow us to debut one cut a day early. Below, the video for “Hinnom, TX,” directed by Isaac Gale and David Jensen:

At first blush, the “Hinnom” video seems simple enough: A car rumbling down a Utah highway — a serene setting, paired with the song’s echoing electronic pulses. But as the sounds grow more complicated, the unbroken shot subtly does the same. As the camera zooms and retracts the sun swells and contracts, scrambling and flickering as static is layered into the song. The highway ebbs and flows as snowdrifts billow across, the camera bobs and tilts – almost as if we were sailing towards the setting sun. And as the harmonies build, the sky turns from dark yellow to blood-red. By the vibrating denouement, the sun has faded from view.

(More at TIME: Full Review of Bon Iver)

I found the video riveting, deceptively modest and yet intricately structured and manipulated. And on the iPad, the crisp resolution and popping colors drew me in. Cranking up the volume, I was transported from my morning subway commute to a twilight drive towards the Western mountains. I had listened to this song dozens of times before, and yet this accompaniment made it far more active and engrossing.

Much the same could be said for the other nine short films bundled in this “Deluxe Edition.” So many of the visuals here – all lushly filmed, meticulously edited – begin as naturalistic wallpaper, evolving only gradually into surrealistic, digitally manipulated collages. Consider “Perth,” a video that begins with a conventional aerial shot of crystal clear farm fields, but then rapidly erupts into an expressionistic frenzy. Landscapes are distorted, inverted, flipped and skewered with digital editing tricks, often rendered in unnatural formations and positioned as if defying gravity. The sky slowly fills with clouds as the song progresses, clouds that morph into an array of different shades, and by the end we find ourselves above the cloud line, unable to see life below.

For newcomers to the band, the two most ravishing standalone videos are “Towers” and “Wash.” In the former, high-speed photography captures the cheery blooming of flowers. The camera is thrust deep into the middle of dense foliage, where the blossoms slide in and out of focus, forming a blurry, kaleidoscopic rainbow of sorts.  In “Wash.,” filmed in the waters off Australia, we watch a man’s feet walk along the beach, and then plunge into the waves with him, tossed and turned in the froth. Every cresting wave matches an emotional high point in the song. One can only imagine the subtle jumps and cuts required here to match the movements to the music.

(More at TIME: The All-Time 100 Albums)

While the short films themselves are hypnotic and enchanting, the “Deluxe Edition” is less notable as a catalog of music videos than as a rethinking of the way albums can engage the consumer in a high-tech world.  Yes, Bjork has augmented a new album with an iPad app. And yes, musicians releasing additional music videos, hidden tracks and concert footage to boost store sales is hardly a novel strategy. But the fact that this Bon Iver “Deluxe Edition” is being released digitally, is chiefly intended for people to enjoy on their computers, smart phones and tablets, and has been crafted as a sort of avant-garde collage leaves me intrigued. Could this be a future business model for artists to expand upon their songs, fostering additional revenue streams in the process? Even as I have gotten used to listening to music while staring at a Pandora or Spotify homepage on my computer, does this “Deluxe Edition” indicate a new way in which playlists on digital devices could be made more engaging?

(More at Time: The Best Songs Ever Recorded)

Finally, could this be a platform through which musicians build out broader story arcs across their library? Take the video for “Lisbon, OH.” Seemingly a throwaway audio track on Bon Iver – a 96-second wordless transition from one song to the next – the video recreates a house fire that singer Justin Vernon often talks about as one of the defining moments of his life. Set entirely within a hallway, alternating between a blinding bright light bulb being tugged along the floor and a cascading wall of smoke that obscures the frame, this might register as the most bizarre video for a newcomer, and yet the most haunting for a long-time fan of the group. If most “Deluxe Editions” merely add to the original source material, here’s one that instead enhances and enlarges – and, in the case of “Lisbon, OH.,” elevates.

Steven James Snyder is an Associate Editor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @thesnydes. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page, on Twitter at @TIME and on TIME’s Tumblr.

0 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest