Written and recorded in a log cabin in Northern Wisconsin at the end of 2006, For Emma, Forever Ago, the debut album from Bon Iver (Justin Vernon) was initially released in a limited edition of just 500 copies. However, word-of-mouth saw the American indie-folkster striking a collective nerve (probably just below Devandra Banhart’s elbow), with the result that it’s now getting a wider release.
If acoustic, introspective soul-searching is your idea of heaven, with gently strummed guitars, vocals so falsetto they make Neil Young seem like a baritone, and lyrics so oblique they’d make Thom Yorke jealous, then look no further. The entire album is ostensibly a paean to love lost (the Emma of the title is apparently Vernon’s ex-girlfriend).
Most of For Emma… is gorgeous. Opener -Flume’ is the finest three and a half minutes of whimsical melancholy you’re likely to hear all year, while -Skinny Love’ is the best kind of campfire singalong. The multi-tracked vocals, particularly on -The Wolves (Act I and II)’ give a nice choral effect, like a bunch of sopranos in Nashville, while the tattoo-like drums on -Team’ and the brass on the beautiful -For Emma’ are welcome additions. It does all get a little pastoral after a while, however, and could probably have done with a little change in pace and some more -oomph’ injected into proceedings. Perhaps with a little more money and maybe a strong producer, Bon Iver will create a real masterpiece, but for now, this is a hypnotic opening salvo.