That guy from Bon Iver wanders out of the cabin and into a shady bar. This isn’t the premise of a joke, sorry.
Middle West, 2013
In 2012, Justin Vernon announced (or more likely muttered) that his Grammy-winning, critically acclaimed band Bon Iver might be done for. Bon Iver might be better described as a songwriting vehicle for Vernon, in much the same way Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails is, Jim James’ My Morning Jacket, or Derek Smith’s Rice Cultivation Society. And with the mystique that Bon Iver has garnered for its cabin-in-the-wood origin story, it just feels right that the band would go on hiatus right at the height of their critical and commercial success. In many ways, Justin Vernon’s success and proliferation throughout the music industry is similar to that of Jack White’s. After White gained fame with The White Stripes, it afforded him the opportunities to bring the Raconteurs together, create Third Man Records, write with Loretta Lynn, and on and on. Vernon seems to have adopted this model, writing, recording, and touring with a number of bands since 2011’s Bon Iver: Gayngs, Kanye West, and Volcano Choir.
In more ways than one, Vernon’s new(ish) band, The Shouting Matches, feels like a minor effort. If Bon Iver aims to search souls and create beautiful, wintry ballads, The Shouting Matches aims to get in a fight with the guys of Bon Iver. Their first album, Grownass Man, is a radical departure from what fans of Bon Iver, Volcano Choir, or Gayngs might be expecting. The Shouting Matches is a bluesy rock band whose music would sound perfectly at home, and well suited, at any local bar. Grownass Man doesn’t set high expectations for itself, necessarily, the album is full of shit-kicking rock tunes that all sound vaguely familiar. In its familiarity, there’s comfort, though; the band’s music isn’t challenging, and it just sounds like a group of three guys having a good time. Justin Vernon is unrecognizable here, and if I didn’t see visual proof of it, I wouldn’t believe that he’s the singer of The Shouting Matches. Gone are the insular, introspective lyrics and falsetto; Vernon’s voice here goes through growls, croons, and rasps, and it sounds perfectly natural in this context.
Vernon’s Bon Iver doesn’t have an ounce of fun or humor in it (except of course, the hilarious “Beth/Rest”), so it makes sense that he would want to cut loose with old friends. There are few tracks that fall flat (I’m looking at you “Three Dollar Bill”), but for the most part, Grownass Man is a nice debut and solid album. Even though The Shouting Matches stick to their blues-rock band script, there are plenty of moments of interest here: the bluesy instrumental “Milkman,” the Motown-injected “New Theme”, the Wilco-esque “Gallup, NM”. The second track, “Gallup, NM” is probably as close, musically, as The Shouting Matches gets to any of Bon Iver’s output, and it’s easily one of the best tracks on the album. Will Grownass Man increase Vernon’s Grammy count? Absolutely not. The Shouting Matches’ debut is best served without knowing who’s in the band, and as long as you aren’t expecting For Emma, Forever Ago, you’re in for a fun ride.
“I’ll Be True”