Bon Iver (meaning “good winter” in French) is the brainchild of Justin Vernon, a true musical mastermind.
Vernon founded the band in 2007.
Now a four-member group, Bon Iver became quite the sensation after the 2008 release of “For Emma, Forever Ago,” their debut album.
It truly is a holistic work of brilliance on the part of Vernon.
After a simultaneous breakup with his girlfriend and former band in 2006, Vernon took a “Thoreau-esque” winter sabbatical deep in the woods of Wisconsin.
It was during this solitary brooding that he handcrafted “For Emma, Forever Ago” with old recording equipment and old, beat-up instruments.
The resulting unique and unpolished sound is crucial in giving the album a raw and bitter flavor—one that easily reflects the sadness the songs portray.
The album is a perfect reminder of winter, as one can almost picture Vernon stationed beside a fire penning these songs.
The soft simple melodies fall down like an immaculate snow—it is the perfect album to listen to on a lazy afternoon.
The true strength behind the songs is the emotional passion in Vernon’s singing, combined with the soulful poetry of the lyrics.
In an age of lyrical shallowness, the bard-like lines are a breath of fresh air. To add to this, Vernon’s empowered semi-falsetto makes their delivery a perfect one.
The hands-down, standout track on the disc, “Skinny Love,” showcases his lyrical prominence quite well.
The song is a mourning of failed love—a “skinny love” that is sure too soon waste away.
The stanzas portray the pain of a doomed relationship culminating in an impassioned chorus.
Lines like “In the morning I’ll be with you/ But it will be a different kind” and “And now all your love is wasted?/ And then who the hell was I?” showcase this emotion perfectly.
In addition, the balladry must be heard rather than read to be fully appreciated.
With other beautiful tracks following, especially “Blindsided” and the title track, “For Emma,” the album comes to a thoughtful climax with the closing song “Re: Stacks.”
The song has the feel of a concluding paragraph; it reiterates the main themes of the album and comes to its overall meaning.
While again contemplating the rough patches in life—the “stacks as your load”—Vernon ends the album with this thought in the last stanza: “This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization/ It is the sound of the unlocking and lift away.”
The solitude in the woods and the coinciding album was not a change per se—it was merely liberation from the enslaving struggles of broken relationships.
In short, “For Emma, Forever Ago” is a perfect piece of work born out of the angst of the hardships of life.