For Emma, Forever Ago

For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver
2007 self-release / 2008 release by Jagjaguwar

I discovered this album in early 2008 when I was nannying in Stamford, Connecticut. It's not really a stretch to say it got me through that entire year.

Bon Iver - a play on the French "bon hiver" for "good winter" - is actually just Justin Vernon, formerly of DeYarmond Edison. When the band moved to North Carolina and broke up, Justin moved back to Wisconsin and holed himself up in a family cabin for four months, with recording the last of his intentions. He did what I think every artistic temperament would like to do after an exhausting creative "failure"... turn into a hermit and disappear. Recuperate in the snow, put the world on freeze until you're ready to resume.

Turns out when you're alone in a cabin and it's too cold to go outside, and you have rudimentary recording equipment just lying around, you can make a pretty incredible album, regardless of your original intentions.

One of the things I love about this, is that he recorded the music first, and then went back, listening to the melodies and inserting lyrics where he felt they fit best. To me, the words are just another instrument. There are parts where you can't really tell what he's saying, but you don't need to, the mood carries across regardless. It's got some brilliant lyrics, poetic, powerful images. Well, powerful in their loneliness, if that is power. They stick with you, especially once you figure out what he's saying...

"Sold my cold knot / A heavy stone / Sold my red horse for a venture home /To vanish on the bow -- / Settling slow // Fit it all, fit it in the doldrums / (Or so the story goes)"

It's all Vernon, all the instruments, everything. It wasn't re-recorded in studio when he reintegrated into society, (even though at times it does sound a bit too "produced" but that's just me nitpicking a folk element that's not acoustic, nor do I want it to be.) He had his brother haul up an old drum set for him, already equipped at the cabin with a Shure SM57 and an old Silvertone guitar. He says he made his own "instruments" out of stuff around the cabin for whatever else he needed. Here I picture the obligatory saw, washboard, sheet metal, moonshine jug, etc. But that's just me being romantic.

"I crouch like a crow / Contrasting the snow / For the agony, I'd rather know / 'Cause blinded I am blindsided // Peek in... into the peer in / I'm not really like this... I'm probably plightless // I cup the window / I'm crippled and slow / For the agony / I'd rather know / 'Cause blinded I am blindsided // Would you really rush out for me now? // Taught line... down to the shoreline / The end of a blood line... the moon is a cold light // There's a pull to the flow / My feet melt the snow / For the irony, i'd rather know / 'Cause blinded I was blindsided"

It's mood music, really. But it's good mood music. It's stuff I wish I'd written. I think it's gorgeous, but then, this kind of music is my thang. And I can be sucker for the soft stuff.

Besides, a lonely guy in a cabin? If you have to do it, you might as well do a Thoreau job of it.

"I was teased by your blouse / Spit out by your mouth / I was lulled by your low / Seminary song // Tear on tear on / Take all on the wind on / Soft bloody nose / Send another form // So many territories / Ready to reform / Don't let it form us / Don't let it form us / A creature fear"


  1. excellent review, chels! made me want to listen! the lyrics made my mouth spin and my head drop! thanks! : )

  2. Thanks, Tasha! If you do listen, you really just have to listen to the whole album all in a row. That's the best way it's consumed. If you want, I'll totally wrap it up in a fancy email and send it your way. :)

  3. for the mood, yes? : )
    i would like the whole album.. then when i get it i save it to my media player?
    thanks & i look forward to reading more reviews by you, chels! take care, tash

  4. "powerful loneliness"

    good review, i need more like that here