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Five artists cashing in on Bon Iver's popularity

Five artists cashing in on Bon Iver's popularity
Photo by Stacy Schwartz

When Bon Iver took home the Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album in 2012, you knew that it would only be a matter of time before other acts and musicians started capitalizing on the current trend and borrowing heavily from Justin Vernon's downcast, alone-in-the-woods sound.

Here are five artists who have taken advantage of the attention showed towards Bon Iver's distinctive sound -- ranging from creative fans to outright imitators.

Kanye West 'Ye seemed to be a bit ahead of the trend on this one - enlisting Justin Vernon's help on backing vocals for a couple tracks from his 2010 masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Compared to Maroon 5's Adam Levine, John Mayer, and Coldplay's Chris Martin in the past, this configuration proves far more satisfying. You still got the sense that he was tapping into an artist that would not only push his own music forward, but would add some instant depth and breadth to his sound. Vernon's ghostly vocals are featured on "Monster" and far more prominently on "Lost in the World," which gives the end of the album a mournful coda.

Vernon was again featured prominently on Kanye's abrasive and self-assured Yeezus, including the peculiar ode to tolerence, "Hold My Liquor." Who knows if Kanye will eventually return the favor by making a guest appearance on one of Vernon's future albums. Since the results worked so well the first couple of times out, it wouldn't be surprising if they collaborated again.

Ásgeir The Icelandic musician Ásgeir has borrowed freely from Bon Iver's melodic folk sound and falsetto stylings, just giving it a bit of a European twist. While he is just starting to make a name for himself here in the States by recording and releasing some English language crossover hits, his 2012 debut album garnered him wide acclaim in his homeland, reaching triple platinum status in Iceland. He won Album of the Year and Best Newcomer at the '12 Icelandic Music Awards, and was also recognized by the Nordic Music Prize, receiving a nomination for the Best Nordic Album of the Year. His textured, mournful sound certainly echoes Bon Iver's familiar tones, with some of the adventurous sonic experimentalism of his countrymen, Sigur Rós, blended in as well. "King and Cross" (above) summons some immediate artistic parallels. I'm sure we'll hear more from Ásgeir as his music makes his way across the Atlantic, and you can judge for yourself just how similar to Bon Iver he truly is.

Coldplay Chris Martin was the King of Mope lone before Justin Vernon came around, but the London quartet has been drifting closer and closer to a Bon Iver-esque sound in recent years. Their recent single, "Midnight," only sealed the comparison, with Martin's highly processed, falsetto vocals sounding eerily reminiscent of Vernon's desolate croon. The rustic, wooded setting for the video only taps deeper into the Bon Iver aesthetic, with Martin's nature-filled stroll on reinforcing the connection to Vernon's earthly inspirations. Add to that, Coldplay's title song with Cat Power for Zach Braff's follow up to Garden State, I Wish I Was Here, with Martin's soaring, Vernon-like vocal flourishes during the coda, and it becomes obvious that Bon Iver is influencing the modern direction of one of the world's biggest rock bands. That new collaboration also conveniently leads us to:

 

Zach Braff Braff nearly single-handedly broke the Shins to a mainstream, worldwide audience when their music was featured in the pivotal "this song will change your life" scene of his indie-darling directorial debut, Garden State. And for Braff's Kickstarter-funded follow-up, I Wish I Was Here, he seems ready to give the same treatment to Bon Iver. Not only is the gorgeously moving Bon Iver, Bon Iver hit "Holocene" featured prominently in the soundtrack to the film, but Vernon also was so inspired by the movie that he wrote a brand new track, "Heavenly Father," which is used in the picture and the corresponding soundtrack.

Not only are Vernon's modern tones coursing through the musical accompaniment to the film, but the soundtrack is filled with artists who identify with and echo his sound. In addition to the aforementioned Coldplay and Cat Power duet, there are a smattering of other bands and musicians who can get the Braff/Bon Iver effect (patent pending). Braff also includes a glorious track from Badly Drawn Boy, "The Shining," the Mercury Music Prize winning English musician who himself was a precursor to Vernon's vulnerable, stark sound.

Justin Vernon Of course. It's not always the case that the artist themselves can effectively leverage their own notoriety, but if there's anyone doing it right, it's Justin Vernon. He doesn't seem to be in any hurry to release another Bon Iver record, but there's little doubt that his newfound fame has brought the spotlight to his other musical outlets. Both Shouting Matches and Volcano Choir received a significant Bon Iver bump, and that renewed interest led both projects to release successful albums within the past year. In addition to bands he's personally involved in, his past collaborators and close friends in Megafaun also have received attention due to their connection to Vernon, not to mention their original band DeYarmond Edison.

Bon Iver's drummer, S Carey, has also branched out on his own, releasing a pair of lovely albums that echo his collaborations with Vernon, and certainly garner more notice. Justin's vocal involvement on saxophonist Colin Stetson's New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light gave that album a definite boost in consideration, with the record eventually getting shortlisted for the 2013 Polaris Music Prize. Even the Eau Claire music scene has been profoundly influenced by Justin Vernon's strong connection and continuing support shown to his hometown, with his April Base recording studio quickly becoming a go-to studio for both local and national acts alike. Vernon has proved that even if a new Bon Iver record never materializes, we will still continue to listen to whatever he creates, and the music world will still be influenced by his gracefully elegant sounds.

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