Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago

By Team JamBase Apr 11, 2008 12:30 pm PDT

By: Sarah Moore

Sometimes the very best albums get created unintentionally. Such was the case with Justin Vernon (The Rosebuds). He was just settling his brain for a long winter’s nap when he added recording to his wood-chopping routine. Following a breakup from band DeYarmond Edison, Vernon penned ideas that had been collecting in his subconscious. Using the pseudonym Bon Iver (intentionally misspelled French for “good winter”), Vernon has compiled the most passionate, haunting moments from those three secluded months. His intoxicating falsetto whisks the listener away to a dream-like state of being. Shifting from eerie, diminutive folk songs to subtle chamber pop, the tracks inspire a haunting presence, straddling the line between secular and sacred.

“Lump Sum” begins with Gregorian chants and madrigal vocal harmonies, which are broken by pulsating yet restrained rhythm guitar strums. Vernon’s vocals are echoed and amplified, splicing his voice into various parts. An angelic synth tone surrounds the continuous stream of chords. The album then proceeds into “Skinny Love,” lo-fi soulful crooning that wavers with its dynamics. The poetic lyrics speak of holding on to a fading love with a resigned desperation. The personal nature of Vernon’s lyrics combined with his heartfelt production draw the listener into the subtleties of each vocal strain or embellished chord. “Creature Fear” begins with barely audible acoustic meanderings paired with hushed singing. Harmonies sometimes reach discordant points but taper off into a pianissimo melody. The faint tune then halts briefly before summoning gusto and zeal with a building percussion section at the bridge. The track directly leads into “Team,” which really just feels like a natural progression.

Vernon’s type of folk involves an atmospheric quality that builds in layers. Whether the strata are continuous guitar strums, handclaps, whistles or horn interjections, there is always something going on. Vernon’s phrasing flows in a hesitant but comfortable manner, as in “Re: Stacks.” Lines of lyrics are paused mid-word and the single words repeat rhyme schemes (“back…racks…stacks…) to create a unique vocal rhythm.

Bon Iver’s album strikes comparisons to Iron & Wine as well as Grizzly Bear, and the buzz just keeps going from there. The environment that Vernon has landscaped involves just the right instrumental nuances with a deeper core of well-constructed compositions. Clearly, the hiatus from bustling society was just what Vernon needed to come into his own.

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