Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Have you heard the story of how “Bon Iver” acquired his name? No you say (if yes skip a few paragraphs) well let me enlighten you on the subject. Imagine your world coming crashing down around you, all you’ve known is gone and you feel totally alone. After the break down of his band “DeYarmond Edison” after ten years and the break-up of his relationship with his girlfriend that’s exactly how singer songwriter Justin Vernon felt. Vernon decided to get away from it all by moving to a wooden cabin that his dad built in the remote isolated hills of Wisconsin way back in 1979. For a four month period over a very cold winter he spent his days chopping wood, building fires and being alone with his thoughts, igniting the sparks that would eventually become his breathtaking debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago”.

As all good Wikipedia readers will have found out “the name, Bon Iver, is a bastardization of the French, bon hiver (good winter)”. Justin decided that due to the location of the birth of the album that this would be a perfect moniker to take on for the project. So “Bon Iver” was born, if you’re wondering he dropped the “h” because he thought it looked strange (artistic types).

All joking aside very rarely does an album come along that you just love every single second of from start to finish. Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago” is one of those fabled masterpieces that appear every now and then like a gift from god. Tender and truthful it pulsates with moments of musical joy and abject misery, Bon Iver has created an album of astonishing beauty, but the beauty is shrouded in a veil of bitter disappointment and the realisation that most things whither it’s love or friendship don’t last forever.

“Flume” opens the album and you’re instantly hit with the warmth and depth of Vernon’s vocal. As a lazy sounding guitar jangles in the background you’re sucked into Bon’s world and it leaves you hungry for what’s to come. The album as a whole is an exceptional piece of work and deserves to be listened to from start to finish. On first listen there may be a couple of songs that you feel stand out more than the others but believe me if you give this album a chance then all of it will be ingrained in your conscience for the rest of your life. I know that sounds like a strong statement but I really do believe that there’s some little bit of magic contained in its 37 minutes 15 seconds.

“Skinny Love” is one of those songs that instantly grabs your attention, beginning with the gut wrenching lyrics “come on skinny love just last the year, pour a little salt we were never here”. It then expands into a raw emotional whirlwind as Justin’s voice goes higher than we’ve heard previously on the album for the lines “who will love you? Who will fight?” and any doubt you were having about Bon Iver swirls away done the drain, he’s hear and you’re in love. As hard as it is to choose a favourite song from the album (mine changes almost daily) “The Wolves (Act I and II)” has something special about it. The song builds with constant acoustic guitar strumming then his elongated vocals wash into your eardrums with the repeating of the line “what might have been lost”. Hearing what at first sounds like fireworks exploding all around the vocals as he shouts “aaahhhhh” you realise in a beautiful pause that the fireworks were perfectly timed hits on the drum-kit.

Lines such as “I was teased by your blouse, spit out by your mouth” on “Creature Fear” and “Can’t you find a clue, when your eyes are all painted Sinatra blue” on “The Wolves (Act I and II)” along with the previously mentioned “Skinny Love” lyrics are all very poignant. There’s no question that the lyrical content of the album is very deep and meaningful however the overall sound and feel of the record is just as important to its greatness as the lyrical content. The more you listen to it the more little phrases and minuscule moments of genius present themselves. The in-between times, quiet and hushed pauses add to the ambience and desolate beauty of “For Emma, Forever Ago”.

Album closer “Re. Stacks” is a stripped back folk song with a stunning winding guitar piece and again finds Vernon vulnerable and losing, whither it’s money or relationships. After going on a journey with him for the last 30minutes you totally believe him when he ends with the lyrics “your love will be safe with me”.

It’s the perfect 3am album, listen to it when you’re depressed, listen to it when your happy, listen to it when you’re with someone you love, listen to it when you’re mind just won’t stop ticking over, it’ll unravel and reveal to you exactly what you need to hear.

Ross Cunningham

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