This first single from indie folk band Bon Iver's eponymous second album was released on May 16, 2011. Most of the tracks are named after places, and this song's title refers to the mid-western Canadian city located in Alberta's grassland region. According to Rolling Stone's Joe Dolan, "Canada's cowboy country is evoked via high-lonesome almost-a cappella singing that fades into rolling tom-toms booming as spaciously as the Great White North."
Unlike For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver wasn't laid down in a backwoods cabin. According to the press release it was "recorded and mixed at April Base Studios, a remodeled veterinarian's clinic located in rural Fall Creek, Wisconsin."
Lyrically, the songs on Bon Iver are more difficult to decipher than those on For Emma. Despite this, Bon Iver founder Justin Vernon told UK newspaper The Guardian he is particularly proud of the development of his lyrical style on the record. "There's a few times in the past when I wrote a song and I put the words together and they were very clear pictures and I felt like I was putting together a really good story," he said. "But I don't think I was ever really able to stay on that. What I've sort of developed lyrically is more about the sound of the vocals and what they are.The lyrics of this record, I got really really really intricate about the meaning, for me," he continued. "I mean [the song] Calgary, I remember working on it every single day for a year on tour. Just looking at it, and almost getting really weird about reading it down vertically. I just wanted it to be complete, because I felt that if it could just stand alone as its own thing, if it looked right, if it was finished and it was sung with feeling, then it doesn't matter to anyone else what I'm singing because it's sounding good and it's delivered well."
The name "Bon Iver" is derived from the French for "good winter." The album was recorded in Vernon's home town of Eau Claire in Wisconsin, where the temperature rarely rises above freezing in winter. He told UK newspaper The Sun naming it Bon Iver shows he's accepting winter is a big part of the album. "I'm not running away with it," he said. "It's the all-knowing thing, it's more constant than sleep. Everyone deals with it and everyone is in it. It's about what winter means, what everyone goes through, not just the season, but the death of anything, the birth of anything. Winter equalizes everybody. There are different classes of people, different types of people, but winter is the one thing that leveled off everyone I grew up with."
" found Vernon alleviating memories of lost love. Since then he's found himself a girlfriend, Canadian folk star Kathleen Edwards, and this track is a worship song to everything the previous album's title track mourned. "Calgary is a metaphor, I've never been there," Vernon explained. "It's about what you don't know. It's a hopeful song, kind of like a wedding vow song for someone you've never met. It's saying 'Look, if I do end up running into you along the line, I don't know who you are, but I feel like there's someone out there, in whatever sense of true love I still believe in after all the s--t I've been through', it's inviting that mystery into your life and believing in it."
The Durand and Dan Huiting directed music video is set in a remote enchanted forest and features a strange wedding ceremony between two wistful young folks and a two-footed bear. If you can explain it please let us know!
Vernon has never been to Calgary, which means he can look at it in a certain way. He explained to Jam! Music
why he chose to use the Canadian city as a metaphor for a wedding-vow between two people that haven't met. Said the Bon Iver frontman: "Having never been to Calgary, you tend to beautify it or put it into some form in your mind. When I think of Calgary, I think of an isolated capital city. I think about the Rockies. I think about high places. I've always sort of dreamt about it. So Calgary became this place that true love comes from."