Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

Amanda Petrusich

By Amanda Petrusich

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver

After splitting with his former band (DeYarmond Edison, who, after relocating to North Carolina, reformed as Megafaun), Justin Vernon holed up in a remote Wisconsin hunting cabin for four frigid months, recording the tracks that would later comprise For Emma, Forever Ago, his haunting debut as Bon Iver. For Emma was self-released by Vernon in 2007 before being picked up by Jagjaguwar in 2008, and while the record may now be an official, bar-coded release, it still feels more like buried treasure, caked with dirt and full of secrets.

Beautiful, dizzying vocals are the center of this spare solo debut.

Vernon's high, lonesome yowls are multi-tracked over (mostly) spare acoustic strums; unsurprisingly, Vernon's guitar feels secondary to his vocals, which are pretty and threatening, primed-to-pierce icicles dangling from a rooftop. Tracks like “Skinny Love” — which, like most of For Emma, sees Vernon lowing about failed relationships — feel distinctly cautionary, with Vernon earnestly admonishing his listeners to be patient, fine, balanced, kind. For Emma is packed with these sorts of tiny lessons and Vernon's spooky, otherworldly instrumentation only cements the celestial vibe — the cumulative effect is enough to make you momentarily consider camping out in an ice-crusted hut for a long winter, just to see what you can learn about life.