Features | Awards

The Neutrino Award for Most Unexpected Reappropriation of the Characteristics of Light

By Matt Main | 18 December 2011

Bon Iver
Bon Iver, Bon Iver
(Jagjaguwar; 2011)

This award refers of course to the news that, after preliminary tests at Gran Sasso Labs in Italy, “neutrinos” have been discovered to be outpacing light by roughly sixty billionths of a second. Such implications for the theory of relativity and other such scientific miscellany are mind-boggling, but one thing does provoke a certain fascination: the idea that light might not be the end-all of concepts, that matter may exist that transcend light’s parameters of speed and all-encompassing range.

On an entirely different note, earlier this month Conrad warned the CMG staff that we should prepare for an “avalanche of accusations” that our year-end album list is constructed in a vain attempt to be different, and that our ranking of this album in particular (as in, it doesn’t) will surprise some. And it does, it surprises and slightly saddens me, even, that as a collective critical body we haven’t united in support for Bon Iver, Bon Iver. As Eric pointed out in his review, this is a triumph of maturity, Vernon the songwriter now matched by Vernon the expansive producer, and then multiplied by the fervour and flourish with which these new dimensions are applied. And if some do yet yearn for the intimacy and grief left behind, all that can be done is to point to the true beauty which stands in its place; the new fullness of life, and the sheer light that floods this record from start to finish.

It may be an overly romantic view to take, but all I can hear in this album is the sound of light, radiating from every note. I hear it in the summery, wistful “Michicant,” shining through the gaps of nostalgia between the bell of a bicycle. It’s present in “Hinnom, TX,” in the form of a distant, hopeful vanishing point, represented by the Sun in the song’s accompanying video. And in “Beth/Rest” and “Perth” it simply streams through the stained glass cathedral windows, all restrained pomp and regality.

This is no accident. The light doesn’t simply exist in the pockets in and around the products of Vernon’s craft, occurring in negative or in the absence of any obstruction. Instead, it is very deliberately reflected in mirrors and refracted through prisms until he rests its spotlight on precisely what he intends it to, glimmering, carefree. Light and its previously unbridled freedom is captured; just as it may yet have been in the neutrinos of middle Europe, light has a conqueror, one who forces it into places where it serves to illustrate most emphatically his art for all. Once in position, Vernon speaks for all of us in “Holocene”: “I could see for miles, miles, miles.”