Bon Iver's auspicious For Emma, Forever Ago ended on a cliffhanger: If the exceptional collection was little more than Justin Vernon's spit-shined demo tape, what would happen when the man (and a band) actually stepped into a studio? The Blood Bank EP (available on vinyl and digitally) seeks to answer that question. The titular song is the most developed, and it walks an exceedingly steady line between the slow chug of Songs:Ohia and the crystalline soul of Coldplay. That's not to say that a more produced, three-piece Bon Iver is a boring Bon Iver, but in spite of its wintry tale of finding love in an unlikely place, "Blood Bank" leaves something to be desired—namely the fragility and unplanned expansiveness that defined Emma. Fortunately, this set's remaining songs benefit from feeling slightly incomplete. On "Beach Baby," Vernon's voice sounds as delicate as blown glass with nothing but guitar (acoustic and slide) to buffer it from the outside world. "Babys" finds him crooning damaged R&B over Reich-like piano repetition, while "Woods" is a cappella, but for the vocoder that lends strange resonance to his mantra, "I'm building a still to slow down time." These three songs feel like test runs—pilot duets between Vernon and a specific instrument—and that's promising. What fans should be nervous about is Bon Iver figuring itself out.
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