Bon Iver - "For Emma, Forever Ago" MAG

August 11, 2009
By Megan Duff SILVER, Green Bay, Wisconsin
Megan Duff SILVER, Green Bay, Wisconsin
9 articles 0 photos 3 comments

It's hard to believe that just a few years ago, in the dead of winter, one man was making such beautiful music. Justin Vernon was suffering from break-ups in his professional and personal life, and a bout of mono, when he moved to his father's hunting cabin in northern Wisconsin. An Eau Claire native and a musician since the age of 12, Vernon lived off venison and beer for three months while writing and recording one of this year's most critically acclaimed albums.

Bon Iver is a butchering of the French phrase for “good winter,” and has become Vernon's musical ID. “For Emma, Forever Ago” is short, with only nine songs, all of which sound like demos with clumsy chords and questionable sound quality. Vernon slurs and mumbles and relies heavily on his falsetto in each song. His lyrics – the majority of which are images and jumbled phrases – are based on nature. Beyond that, however, isolation and pain has never sounded so good. Just listening to these songs, you can feel the icy wind on your face and hear the wolves' lonely howls echoing in the woods around you.

The opening to “Lump Sum” puts you in a cathedral as a chorus serenades you into a blissful music-induced coma. In one of his more coherent and emotional moments, Vernon churns out “Skinny Love” as the most mainstream song here. “The Wolves (Act I and II)” is the epic powerhouse, building to a shaking crescendo as he croons, “Some day my pain will mark you/Harness your blame and walk through/What might have been lost/Don't bother me.”

Vernon's closest musical cousins are Iron and Wine and TV on the Radio. When at his quietest and least coherent, he channels Sigur Rós' mystical language and inflection. Folk rock, acoustic, neo-soul – whatever you want to call it – mostly it's just beautiful.

If you can, get the iTunes exclusive track “Wisconsin” for an example of some studio-smooth Vernon. At the end of “Re: Stacks,” my favorite song, comes the confession: “This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization/It's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away/Your love will be safe with me.”

This album is not about Emma, whoever she may be (Vernon never addresses her, or the horrible, beautiful things she did to him forever ago). This album is not fun or angry, loud or catchy; it is cathartic and vital. A weight comes with it, the weight coming off your shoulders and turning into organic resonating sound.

Similar Articles


This article has 5 comments.

on Nov. 25 2011 at 6:20 pm
sophza PLATINUM, Sacramento, California
21 articles 14 photos 47 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." ~Ferris Bueller

I'm a HUGE Sigur Ros fan, I gotta check this guy out now. Thanks!

on Oct. 14 2011 at 6:39 pm
callie15 BRONZE, North Plains, Oregon
3 articles 21 photos 424 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?"
-Chuang Tzu

"No man with a good car needs to be justified!"
-Wise Blood

Thank you so much for writing a review about Bon Iver. He is a beautiful artist, and your review of his album would make him proud.

I just began listening to him about a month ago, starting with this album. People, listen to this. You've never heard anything like it :)

on Mar. 16 2010 at 8:27 am
IgniteTheAirwaves PLATINUM, New City, New York
41 articles 37 photos 25 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody." -J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye

I jsut love the faact that a review of quality music can be on this website. Good job!

on Jan. 8 2010 at 9:22 pm
thebookthief SILVER, Evanston, Illinois
6 articles 0 photos 5 comments
Bon Iver's musical style and mood is unlike any other artist. You captured the essence of Bon Iver well.

on Nov. 2 2009 at 9:28 am
ClaraZornado GOLD, Danielson, Connecticut
10 articles 11 photos 11 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Your life is your art." Keri Smith

This is beautifully written. Bon Iver is wonderful.


MacMillan Books

Aspiring Writer? Take Our Online Course!