For Emma, Forever Ago review by Bon Iver

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  • Released: Feb 19, 2008
  • Sound: 10
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.7 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.9 (35 votes)
Bon Iver: For Emma, Forever Ago

Sound — 10
Track Listing of: For Emma, Forever Ago: 01.Flume 02.Lump Sum 03.Skinny Love 04.The Wolves (Act I&II) 05.Blindsided 06.Creature Fear 07.Team 08.For Emma Stacks In 2007, North Carolina resident Justin Vernon removed himself from society and placed himself in a cabin in the middle of Wisconsin, in the middle of no where, in the middle of winter, to hibernate. He was hibernating to escape from his band break up, recovering from his last break up, and recovering from his bout with mononucleosis. Vernon stayed in his father's cabin where he would cut down wood and hunt deer to eat on. He brought along his guitar with the sole purpose of NOT recording. As the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, Vernon found an old 8 track recorder and a few Shure microphones. Using his Silvertone guitar and other doo-dads around the house (such as pencils, popcorn, etc.) he finally decided to record. In his recordings, he poured his mind, heart, and soul into his music. One day while watching a French movie, he heard the French phrase, Bon Hiver (good winter). Vernon dropped the H and adapted that as his stage name. When the winter snow began to melt, he returned to society with a couple of copies of his album. After a lot of encouragement from his friends, Vernon released his album to a local magazine who promoted it. Jagjaguar Records picked up on it; and after slight editing and a few re-recordings, Bon Iver was released to the public under the album name "For Emma, Forever Ago" For Emma, Forever Ago (FEFA) is a shoddy recording session that somehow spurs the deepest part of my heart. Even though some of the words are hard to hear, even though you can hear the settling of the house in which Vernon lives in, it all somehow creates a surreal and beautiful sonic landscape. Sonically, the recordings aren't professional by any means, yet, as mentioned before, it adds to the beauty of Vernon's record. All of the songs have basic guitar, sometimes a basic bass and snare drum, and then multi-layered gospel-like vocals (by Vernon), New Orleans trumpets, and simple, yet heartfelt bass runs. Somehow, this makes truly magical music. It sounds like a match from hell, but this is as closed to simplistic beauty as possible.

Lyrics — 9
According to Vernon himself, he recorded the guitar first. Then hummed over the rhythm to form the melody and then wrote words over it. The listener can hear it in each song: the fact that Vernon has battled with extreme heart-wrenching problems. Sometimes, Bon Iver sings about his always-loving mother, other times about a failing romance, another song is the parting of a couple. While it may seem clich, the orchestration of the lyrics can almost make a man cry. The lyrics evoke dreary, snow covered woods that somehow creates a personal fire inside.

Overall Impression — 10
I will now do a track-by-track review of the nine songs in the album. 01.Flume: this is the song that got me hooked. The basic chord progression evokes simplicity, yet when the layered falsetto vocals come in, you can feel the love a mother has for a son in secret and metaphorical lyrics. "Only love is all maroon" This is perhaps my favorite song on this album. 10/10 especially for catchy chorus 02.Lump Sum: the first thing a listener will notice is a fast, driving acoustic rhythm that is accompanied with Iver's story of returning home with the lyrical hook, " the story goes." 8/10 kudos to the fast paced acoustic guitar 03.Skinny Love: this song has a simple acoustic guitar with extremely heart-felt lyrics that discuss a failing romance. While my friends love this song the most, this isn't my favorite song. 7/10 04.The Wolves (Act I&II): this song has an extremely sparse and distant acoustic accompaniment with multiple-layers of Iver's gospel like drone. The song starts slow and then builds into a rush of ambient sounds, what sounds like popcorn popping over an open fire, broken guitar strings, and the like, finally settles back into the lyrical hook, "Someday my pain will mark you." The song is about a failed relationship as well as Skinny Love. Honestly, this song grows on you. 7/10-I like the intense build up 05.Blindsided: Jose Gonzalez like guitar here with cryptic lyrics that starts mellow then builds into an emotional-falsetto. I can't begin to understand what the hell Iver is talking about here other than being surprised. 8/10 06.Creature Fear: this song begins with a layered vocal country-like introduction. That builds into a layered falsetto verse with an intense chorus. This song flows directly to the next song, Team. 9/10- I really like the first chorus line, "So many foreign worlds/So relativily f--ked. 07.Team: simply a bass line/snare run that continues Creature Fear. Kinda weird how this was executed. 5/10- not bad, just random 08.For Emma: the open chord progression with the slide guitar leading evokes images of an open arctic tundra. The lyrics sound cryptic until you look at the lyric booklet that comes with the album. We find that the song is an alternating dialogue between a couple going their separate ways. This song is both anthemic and sad. "...For Emma, For Ever Ago". 10/10- Props to the trumpet/trombone duet at the end. Also, +1 to the poetic lyrics. The way it's organized it could be a play. Read the lyrics to understand. Stacks: I have yet to understand what the name means. This song doesn't particularly stand out, except for the end, in which Bon Iver admit's to the ending of his struggles with the closing album line, "All your love will be safe with me" 7 (+1 more point for the ending line) The story behind my discovery of Bon Iver is last year, I had a math teacher who played the acoustic guitar and enjoyed folk music and liked to play his collection during class. I was doing a worksheet when I heard a song my teacher was playing through his iPod. My initial thought was, "That's just perfect. It's like everything that could fall into place just has." I asked my teacher who this artist was, and he told me something that sounded like "Boneever". That night at home, I looked up Bon Eever, only to find that it was in fact, Bon Iver. I played through all the songs to find the one that I had heard in class. It was Flume. I also bought Lump Sum, The Wolves (Act I&II), re:Stacks, and Blood Bank. That night, I set my iTunes to repeat playlist, and played all 5 songs, all through the night. I would wake up at random times in the night and hear Bon Iver playing. To me, it sounded surreal and majestic. A few weeks later, I bought the album "For Emma, Forever Ago" by "Bon Iver". I also digitally purcharsed Bon Iver's EP "Blood Bank". Finally, I would like to add, even if you don't like folk, buy this album because it's so surreal and amazing.

15 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is a fantastic album. It's perhaps my favorite album from last year, and great album for people who love lo-fi music and/or modern folk. I cannot wait to see what else Justin Vernon has in store for the future.
    Really surprised there isn't a review for this already. Awesome album, one of the best modern folk albums.
    My girlfriend(who is named Emma) showed me this album. It's amazing.
    Well yes I do like "folk", as a matter of fact I love folk and is really about all I listen to besides some classic rock bands, and a few other newer bands like Radiohead, Coldplay, Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists, and Muse. I think Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago" is one of the most beautiful and haunting "folk" albums I've ever heard! If you like this check out Damien Rice: "O" "9" Ray Lamontagne:"Trouble", "Till The Sun Turns Black" "Gossip In The Grain", Iron and Wine: "The Creek That Drank The Paddle" "Our Endless Numbered Days", and of course Nick Drake: "Pink Moon", and "Five Leaves Left". Some of the artist I mentioned do have other albums, they are all worth owning, but those few are my personal favorite, and honestly I am tired of typing. Ha!
    Lump Sum and re: Stacks almost made me cry. This album conveys more emotion than any other I've ever heard. If this music doesn't move you in any way, there's a chance you aren't human.
    to even do this album a remote piece of justice you have to see it performed live. I was in love with the album when i brought it, loved it more once i returned from his set at glastonbury
    An astonishing piece of recorded emotion. Indeed, at least the most moving album I've ever heard, most honest album too. Good review, although your personal opinions on the songs aren't too relevant... My opinions towards the songs are different, Re:stacks is absolutely a heartwrencher.
    nocarsgo wrote: to even do this album a remote piece of justice you have to see it performed live. I was in love with the album when i brought it, loved it more once i returned from his set at glastonbury
    For sure. They played a free show in Salt Lake, UT (yay), and it was one of the best performances ever. It seems I could feel everything that he was feeling on stage and it was beautiful. Ah....I love this album.
    This album is possibly one of the greatest albums I have ever heard because of the extreme emotional investment put into it by one person which is so hard to find in music today.