The songwriting for Unmap goes back to 2005, before Vernon began his meteoric ascension as Bon Iver. The actual recording didn’t take place until November 2008 at Vernon’s studio in Fall Creek, WI. Of all the songs here, “Still” comes closest to finding that Bon Iver magic. It’s a remake of the song “Woods,” which appeared on the brilliant Bon Iver EP Blood Bank, which appeared earlier this year. If you didn’t think that a vocoder could be used tastefully, listen to Vernon’s stirring, emotional performance on this song.
Remember that pretension I spoke about? It’s painfully obvious on “Mbira In The Morass”. A series of bleeps and bloops, random kalimba stylings, and plucked piano strings, it sounds like Scott Walker’s worst nightmare, and that’s saying something. Not sure what the Choir was going for here, but I wish they hadn’t. “Mbira” is surely a candidate for my most un-favorite track of the year. I thought you’d enjoy hearing what I think sucks.
Among the remains, there are some hits, notably the Steve Reich-influenced “Seeplymouth,” and misses like the closing “Youology,” which sounds like film music from grade D ’50’s horror flick. I can’t quite write this album off, because there are a handful of wonderful moments that emerge after listening a few times. Haunting images remain long after the music has stopped. For now, I remain a fan of Justin Vernon, and I’m anxious to hear what he does next.