Bon Iver

It’s a rare and precious surprise to discover an album as poignantly touching as “For Emma, Forever Ago.” Conjured up by Justin Vernon under the name Bon Iver, this CD serves as a tribute to the ability of seemingly simple music to be emotionally complex. The album, Vernon’s first production as Bon Iver, was released on February 19, and its soulful yet approachable melodies make it a must-listen for music fans of any genre. Vernon was born in Wisconsin and returned to the remote state spontaneously for some alone time after the split-up of his former band. As Vernon’s MySpace proclaims, “It wasn’t planned. The goal was to hibernate.” However, isolated in the remote wild and inspired by the simplicity of life, he began to write, his days eventually becoming comprised of “twelve-hour recording blocks, breaking only for trips on the tractor into the pines to saw and haul firewood.” The album is, quite simply, a masterpiece. Each song blends easily and seamlessly into the next, creating a flowing, intricate web of gorgeous music. The lyrics are perfectly written—abstract but nevertheless effective. While some of the songs are nearly overwhelmingly sorrowful, others are so deeply happy that it makes us sad, like a mother at her child’s graduation. The album’s opener, “Flume,” uses slightly off-sync falsetto vocals, which alternate between unison and harmony, giving the song an airy and profoundly mournful feel. After “Flume” comes “Lump Sum,” which begins with a spiral of voices similar to a Gregorian chant, the vocal equivalent of an orchestra tuning before a symphony. The “tuning” pays off, its end result switching up the tone set by “Flume” with a more upbeat song carried by significant momentum. “Skinny Love,” the third track, is likely to become the album’s biggest individual hit. “Skinny Love’s” pulsing and somber opening chords set the tone for one of the most heartwrenching songs in the album. The lyrics drip with panging regret as Vernon asks us, “Come on, skinny love, what happened here?” nearly drawing tears with each listen. Bon Iver wraps up the album with “Re:Stacks,” my personal favorite. This multi-layered song’s meaning can be interpreted differently depending on one’s mood. While, like the rest of the album, this song is essentially made up of Vernon’s voice and acoustic guitar, in “Re: Stacks” there are points where the vocals and instrumentals send very different messages; the guitar melodies can be tear-jerking while the vocals sound hopeful and love-inspired. It’s the perfect way to close an all-together fantastic album; I recommend “For Emma, Forever Ago” for anyone and everyone who enjoys acoustic music in the slightest.