Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago

Why would someone seclude themselves for three months of sheer solidarity in a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin? Well, someone like Justin Vernon (the principal force behind Bon Iver) would. Following the demise of the band he used to be a part of, DeYarmond Edison, Vernon packed his bags and confined himself to these extreme measures. This was truly a thriving time for Vernon because throughout these three months he developed the music for his nine-song debut, For Emma, Forever Ago.

The first thing that stands out in Vernon’s album is that it is chiefly acoustic album featuring his genuine and endowed falsetto. However, this isn’t to say that it is ever tedious or waning with energy. Even in its most serene moments, the album flourishes with pure emotion and passionate music. On many instances, like “Creature Fear,” Vernon allows the drums to thrust through while he offers lush and diverse vocal harmonization. The drums gallantly pound away as Vernon’s voice soars above everything else. This is all done with a fine attention to detail, yet it sounds fresh and original.

The quite sections are just as equally stunning. The opener, “Flume” is a serene and moving introduction to Bon Iver’s music. Vernon’s voice powers the music to epic proportions and his vocals are heartening. It’s almost as if Vernon is whispering beautiful secrets straight into your ear. The album is packed with moments like these, moments that are both elevating and inspirational.

I guess one would presume that someone who spent three months alone in a remote cabin would generate noticeably depressing music but this isn’t the case — at least it doesn’t sound like it. The song “For Emma” is a gripping, evocative song that flows like a river down a valley. The music and lyrics are brilliantly married inside of its overall scope — a scope that is both engaging and poignant. It surely reminds you of Iron & Wine and TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. It’s a unique cross between the two because Vernon successfully captures both of the aforementioned strengths and employs them onto his own music — these include imposing songwriting, vivid storytelling and impressive musicianship.

The story is that while in these Northwestern Wisconsin woods, Vernon kept busy by filling his days with routine chores, such as splitting wood. However, after some time he would get these urges to write music; it became such a powerful feeling that he was writing music in 12-hour increments, pausing only to get some fresh air. This intensified progression is effectively captured in music form. Everything that Vernon had been experiencing: whether it was heartbreak, love, ethical/moral issues, loss and all other multifaceted emotions were poured onto the music. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mounting song like, “The Wolves (Act I and II),” or something propelling like, “Lump Sum,” Vernon magnificently conveys his emotions.

To think that while we were living our run of the mill lives, someone, out there, was crafting this beautiful piece of music. Not only is Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago a fitting album for people who love terrific, tranquil music but it is essential for anyone who is even remotely serious about music. What Vernon accomplished is simple to feel, yet complex and arduous to illustrate; he granted us with one of the best albums of the year but even more so, he blessed us with the incredible sensation of feeling grateful to be alive just to receive this gem. In a day and age where music is disparaged as trite and derivative, Vernon created a remarkable album. It’s seamless in its construction, poetic in its songwriting and moving in its aesthetic impression.

(This album was self-released in the fall of 2007. Since then, Bon Iver has signed to Jagjaguwar records. They will be re-releasing the album under their label on February 19, 2008.)