Download: Bon Iver’s solo piano “Beth/Rest”

Download: Bon Iver, “Beth/Rest” (Solo Piano Version)

It’s hard not to love Justin Vernon. Aside from a formidable list of sensitive, heartfelt songs, Vernon has a history of spreading his own love. He went back to his high school to record a live album with the jazz band, raising funds for the program he was once part of. He’s used the success of his debut album For Emma, Forever Ago and subsequent hype for his sophomore release to create an album and touring band that features a handful of other artists, an act of considerable (if subtle) communal generosity. He even reached over and dapped me up while leaving the stage at one of last year’s Sounds of the South shows here in Durham (whether or not I have since washed that hand should remain undisclosed).

Though, perhaps due to his newfound stardom, the cheese rock version of “Beth/Rest”  that concludes Bon Iver’s magnificent double-self-titled second album is possibly the most divisive track of the year. It’s a far-cry from the soft, acoustic pieces of the instant classic For Emma, maybe even so unexpected as to require two semi-introductory tunes on the album (“Calgary” and “Lisbon, OH”). Derek and I came to a early agreement that it ought to be a Song of the Year nominee. On the other hand, many folks–familiar with only his quieter catalog–cried out in baffled disapproval.

But “Beth/Rest” has withstood criticisms of deliberate irony: Vernon insists the process behind the song’s creation was largely cathartic, that he cried on several occasions while putting it together.

Here, with the blasting synths, sax, and Top Gun guitars absent, “Beth/Rest” takes on a new persona. Even Vernon’s vocals are toned down–when he first begins with a deep hush, you can almost hear a man who’s long borne the criticisms of his precious child. This simple, solo piano performance from NPR’s World Cafe show is a gem: a placative lullaby to those who felt alienated by the original and a 5:38 treat for all.

download via Stereogum