Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago

     Sorry everyone, but I can't seem to get the term critic quite right! The last four reviews when this is posted will have been extremely positive! Oh well. Bon Iver, pronounced Bone-iver (river minus the r) is a band formed by frontman Justin Vernon in 2007. He released this record independently in the July of that year, which the majority of which was recorded during three months he spent in a remote log cabin in Wisconsin, and which revelled in critical acclaim. It's easy to see why. This sincere record emulates the emptiness and thought-provoking time Vernon spent hid away. It's simple and soothing sounds are easy to dive into and float along on, from the echoing church-like reverb at the start of 'Lump Sum', to the high notes laced through 'Flume'. A fantastic folk effort.
     The album starts off with simple guitar strums, a high voice and some great lyrics. The feeling emerges that this really was recorded in the mountains somewhere. The what I assume are synthesisers sound like the cold morning air and the tiny, hardly noticeable feet tapping and drum stick shuffling add to your atmospheric immersion in the song. Vernon's voice is an brilliant one, subtly underlined with a passion and honesty lost on today's pop following. The music supports the voice but isn't there to carry it. Brilliant.
     Next up: 'Skinny Love', which is possibly my favourite son on this eight track record. The climbing guitar strum marks the entrance of Vernon's voice. The smile-inducing 'my my my' leads up to a section that was for me, the best on the album. His voice breaks away from the high notes and explodes into a passionate chorus that immediately quietens, as if in apology. You get the sense that his peaceful mentality has been momentarily ripped apart, the hole of which is hurriedly sewn up. This vocal variation never sounds forced though. Instead, it works perfectly to create something more relatable and human, but still just as inspiring as any and every other track.
     'The Wolves' is the most personal to Vernon though, I feel. His three months spent secluded are pumped into the music through the sound, smothered in sincerity and sadness. His time spent alone is reflected in the lyrics 'With the wild wolves around you', and the emptiness and remoteness of Vernon's location is certainly pulling at your heart strings. As I write I'm finding it hard not to stop and listen to the song again and again. Then the sound builds and builds, incorporating the only real experimentation on the record. This stint tapers off and as you think it's over, the vocals come back in, backed by a lonely piano and a strange, deeper voice. As the track comes to a conclusion, I felt genuinely sad that it had to end. Hauntingly beautiful., I have to admit.
     I don't want to spoil too much of the album, but all the rest of the tracks are equally as amazing as any of the ones above. The penultimate song reminds me a lot of the first one, making the album feel as though it's sound has come full circle. The album closes with a song that feels reverb heavy, but not in a bad way. It sounds as though Bon Iver started off alive, lives and dies. The last song is almost as though the spirit is floating through the log cabin roof and out into the sky, silhouetted by the setting sun. Closure for the listener. A complete album that relaxes as much as it inspires, and one I will openly enjoy for a very long time.