For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver (2008)

Verdict – 9.7

Bon Iver’s (pronounced bohn eevair) debut album may seem rather lush, complex, but know it was recorded with nothing but a few microphones and old recording equipment. The back story of For Emma, details one of a Justin Vernon (who was the sole creator of the album) following the break-up of his former band, deciding to ‘hibernate’ in a secluded cabin in the woods of Wisconsin. For three months, whilst performing arbitrary and menial tasks of survival, came For Emma. An indie folk representation of his troubles, his love and loss, his guilt and his heartache, all converted into song during times of deep isolation, and isolation is the overwhelming feeling of this album.

The lyrics are purposely oblique, and listeners will find different interpretations of songs, and will find meaning in different lyrics. Never does the abstract quality detract from songs, yet only enhances them so people can relate to songs in personal ways, and potent quotes are readily available in this album. For a start, “Emma” is not a ‘who’, but rather a ‘what’ and ‘when’, an old, lost love. For example, the album’s best track, Skinny Love, is not about “Emma” directly, but rather how a former, haunting love influences future loves (pour a little salt, we were never here).The Wolves (Act I and II) contain the album’s arguably most direct lyrics, and are instantly relatable, as Vernon finds a way to channel the complex, inner turmoil of a break-up into simple, heartfelt song. “Solace my game… Swing wide your crane, and run me through” He aches, before the high point in the entire album as the refrain, “What might have been lost- Don’t bother me”, is set against the backdrop of percussion simulated fireworks. In the closer, re: Stacks, he voices his acceptance in change, and ideals towards the future (everything that happens is from now on).

The lyrics are picturesque, the story surreal, and the music echoes all the feelings it was meant to. A deep feeling of loneliness, isolation dominate the album, and Vernon’s anguish is felt through its entirety. A perfect example of how a time and place can be forever stored, how to voice opinions on subjects the writer proclaims no expertise in, For Emma is a subtle, serene yet sombre affair. A triumph, in any way you look at it. For all the deep pain and conflict involved in the album, Vernon closes with resignation, an accepting, “Your love will be, safe with me.”

Top Songs – Skinny Love, The Wolves (Act I and II), re: Stacks


2 thoughts on “For Emma, Forever Ago – Bon Iver (2008)

  1. This is one of my favorite albums of all time…in fact I have “only love is all maroon” tattooed on my inner arm. Great review, I look forward to reading more!

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