“Epoch,” DeYarmond Edison (Jagjaguwar Records)
Before Justin Vernon burrowed in the woods to make the music that became the Grammy-winning Bon Iver, he had an indie folk band with his childhood buddies that changed their lives forever.
DeYarmond Edison, a moniker taken from Vernon’s actual middle names, lasted a mere two years. It evolved from the high school act Vernon played with brothers Brad Cook and Phil Cook in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The split came suddenly in 2006 in Raleigh, North Carolina, when the quartet — then including Joe Westerlund — reached a creative impasse.
But the band’s spirit lives on in “Epoch,” a five-LP, 83-song compilation due out Friday that includes previously unreleased tracks, live recordings, and other epilogues to the two studio albums by DeYarmond Edison. Hints of Counting Crows, Sufjan Stevens and even Lead Belly are tucked in a wide-ranging release, which spans teenage battle-of-the-bands nostalgia to gospel to blues.
The boxed set is packaged with a 60,000-word mini-book by music writer and friend of the band Grayson Haver Currin. It details the impulsive move these innocent Midwesterners made to stretch themselves in the South — and their wistful post-breakup reflections. The Cooks and Westerlund stayed in North Carolina to form Megafaun, eventually graduating to other ventures. An ailing Vernon felt the pull of home and famously wintered in a family cabin to heal and carve out his own path and sound.
Currin’s eloquent report is required reading to fully appreciate this wandering collection of coming-of-age tunes that carry many of Bon Iver’s genes. Without it, the albums could overwhelm a casual fan.
There are 20 songs from an art gallery residency the band played in North Carolina. “A Satisfied Mind” features Vernon’s first use of his now-familiar falsetto at Brad Cook’s suggestion. In a subset of Vernon’s solo recordings, “hazelton” starts with a cascading guitar that birthed the 2011 hit “Holocene.”
The 83rd track, “Set Me Free,” sounds like a nine-minute elegy to the band, except it was recorded in its infancy. In the lyrics, “I’ve been dragging my feet in the sand / They’ve been bleeding all over this land,” it sounds as if the band knew what had to happen to set everyone free.
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