HAPPY Valentine’s day readers; the season of love is upon us, and what better way to celebrate all these wonderful emotions by reflecting one when love turns sour. There are plenty of albums out there where artists will break your heart with their sorrowful music (see: Beck’s Sea Change, Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker, etc) but it just so happened the release of one in particular landed in this week….
Over the last few years, For Emma, Forever Ago has become somewhat mythologised in the Indie community. When one locks himself away in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, hunts for his food, and laments about how crap his twenties have been only to reappear with an incredible record, it’s of course going to create interest The success of the album seemed to have turned Justin Vernon into some sort of Romantic character, and Bon Iver itself has become, unjustly, a fashion statement, or a trend; something to prove how ‘Indie’ people can be. Perhaps Vernon’s collaborations with Kanye West have not helped this idea despite them being incredible.
But underneath the hype, the fables and the trends lies a really wonderful record. Much like Fleet Foxes, another Folk band that appeared around a similar time, Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago is a record that focuses on the basics. The guitars are simple, but effective, while the extra instrumentation is limited to the occasional drums, bass and horns. Vernon’s vocals are haunting as there’s a near inhuman quality to them and they resonate throughout each song. They are quite unlike Robin Pecknold and co, whose vocals feel more like a mass prayer,
Of course, Vernon was strongly influenced by choral vocals, perhaps most strongly heard on ‘Lump Sum’, but his use of falsetto and autotune gives a modern quality to the songs. Even when it is really noticeable, like on the track ‘The Wolves (Act I & II)’, the subtlety of the singing still brings out a sound that one would not usually expect in Folk music. And the way that Vernon uses his vocals is more as another instrument than a traditional voice, which is reminiscent of The Staples Singers. But what he says in these rivers of voice tie the album together brings the theme to prominence.
As I stated at the start of this article, this is a downbeat, sorrowful record. The end of Vernon’s relationship with his girlfriend helped fuel his retreat into the woods, away from the modern world. The dissolution of this relationship is personified best in the songs ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘For Emma’, the former of which sees Vernon plead with his lover, saying that he advised her to be kind and patient… or she advised him. The latter adds some lush horns and reverted electric guitar to a full formed Lo-Fi Post-Modern ballad.
But aside from the obvious connotations to love and its end, For Emma is an album that alludes to a total separation from a past life. Tracks such as ‘Flume’ immerse themselves in nature itself with obscure and colourful lyrics that seem to almost become one with nature itself. The chilling keys and metallic guitar seem to personify the harsh winters the track describes. Then we have the closing track ‘re:stacks’. Easily the most lyrically rich song on the album, it reads like a letter (or perhaps an email, if the title gives anything away), from Vernon to perhaps his past self, or a friend in the city, describing the wonder of where he finds himself.
For Emma, Forever Ago isn’t just a break up album; it’s a record that’s totally detached from the modern world. Vernon’s themes of loss, disillusionment and immersion into nature make the album sound all the more organic, especially with it’s very minimalist and raw instrumentation. However, the use of autotune makes gives the songs a twist; it’s almost as if Vernon is using something incredibly modern to make his music juxtaposed with itself. The result is absolutely astounding, making For Emma, Forever Ago an incredibly wonderful and moving listen, that just gets better every time.
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
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