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I along with a couple of other reviewers, am of the opinion that perhaps there is something awry with my music taste with regards to this album. Around the time it came out the accolades were like some sort of muso journo ticker tape parade. There had to be something in this.
I bought this originally in 2009, and was deeply unimpressed. It’s dour, grey, miserable. The musical equivalent of the North Pole.
Following in from a short segment in the tv documentary Soundbreaking, in which Bon Iver, featured I thought I blow the dust off.
Well it hasn’t improved. I think that either by accident or design, this album was made to go with that skinny chai latte and ramen noodles that all the hipsters love.
Like no doubt thousands of young guys and girls during the late 00's, I got my heart broken to the soundtrack of Bon Iver. I was an undergraduate at university, and as Nick Hornby in High Fidelity observed, it was hard to tell what came first - was I miserable because I loved Bon Iver, or did I love Bon Iver because I was miserable? Did my enjoyment of the album instil in me a subconscious desire to experience the same things Justin Vernon sang about, draped in eerie harmonies, clicks and scrapes, to run the same gamut of emotions, or was it simply catharsis with the pain that he sings so vividly and almost tangibly about that drew me in closer to the warm tones? Regardless, the album For Emma, Forever Ago brings back powerful, if unrefined, emotions. The peculiar flavour of heartbreak, with its delicate, absolute and all-consuming awfulness and despair is a memory that I think we can all remember or at least empathise with. And it's at its most beautiful in songs like Skinny Love, re:stacks and Blindsided, (and Beach Baby from the LP, Blood Bank) songs of anger, mourning, shock, pain, loss, sadness, and ultimately, by the end of the album, acceptance and redemption. It's an intense experience that draws the listener in and confronts them with raw emotion, exposing their own feelings.
On a more personal level, this was the first album for me that addressed love and loss in such an oblique manner ('there's a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed / And he's dangling my keys, he even fakes a toss' is only one example of many) so as, counter intuitively, to make it seem more genuine, free from what I perceived to be the clichés of songs about heartbreak. Undoubtably the rich use of metaphor, the true impart of the songs wrapped up tightly in the words and sounds rather than overtly on display was a big part of why I liked it so much. It's a deeper album that rewards careful listening on a quiet Saturday night, and although student me devoured it, it's not a self-indulgent piece of navel-gazing only fit for those inexperienced in love - to assume that would be to miss out on something truly special. It's a beautifully crafted paean to the experience of loss, a timeless part of the universal experience of the human condition.
To be honest, this CD sounded like it was made by someone on their own in their bedroom strumming a guitar and recording themselves. Not a big fan of that kind of thing. Should have listened to a sample before buying, but the good reviews made me think otherwise. It's great if you like this type of thing, but I need more input from more musicians and creative people where making albums is concerned. The only album I have ever heard that was done all by a single person that passes the 'solo' test is Phil Collins - Both sides.
For Emma just creeps up on you and invades your existence but in the most wondrous way. The only album which has impacted on me in a similar fashion is Jeff Buckley's "Grace". Its much more than a simple singer songwriter effort, it points in new directions. I had an awful long drive home one evening in the pitch darkness and listened to it properly. It's like having your best in friend in the car with you. When it finished I just put it back on again and enjoy. Very wintry, frosty, isolated, atmospheric and lovely. Creature Fear and Lump Sum are brilliant. While Blindsided and Wolves would grace any great acoustic album. Indeed its distant cousin is probably Will Oldham (Bonnie "Prince" Billy's) "Master and Everyone" which is well worth checking out as one of the greatest Americana albums of recent years. Finally on "For Emma" there is "Re. Stacks" - the song of the year. Love the verse that goes -
"There's a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed And he's dangling my keys he even fakes a toss Whatever could it be That has brought me to this loss?"
Quite where Justin Vernon goes next I don't know; but I do care a lot.
Love a bit of Bon Iver. Such heart aching emotion is held within this music, you get a sense of it being written in isolation. It is something which when you are in the mood for it really manages to hit the spot, and makes you feel like you don't need anything else. As long as you have this music to keep you company, you'll be alright. I also think the highly personal nature of the album is something which translates well across to the vinyl format. My delivery was prompt, within a week or so I think and it arrived in immaculate condition, still in its plastic. Cannot think of a signle problem I have had with it! Even the artwork matches the album perfectly.
This is a haunting work of rare beauty. Whatever the inspirations that Justin Vernon took to that cabin in Wisconsin, the fact that he crafted the majority of this LP from his emotional baggage, a Silvertone guitar & SM57 is pretty remarkable. It’s less a series of songs than a blanket of someone else’s memories and feelings to wrap yourself in.
I cane a little late to this album, but I am glad I did. Justin Vernon, the one-man show behind Bon Iver, manages to come up with some beautiful, slow burning songs that seep into your consciousness and are just perfect listining for any reflective moment. The vocal and instrument arrangements are very clever, when you consider that much of this album was recorded in a log cabin. Certainly not the usual lo-fi americana, be prepared to give this album a couple of spins and by then you'll be hooked.