Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago


3.0
good

Review

by STOP SHOUTING! USER (28 Reviews)
June 26th, 2010 | 71 replies


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: If you go out in the woods today, you're sure to meet a bearded visionary folk singer...

Thump, thump, thump. Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) is coming on like a modern day Jack Nicholson circa “The Shining” with a serious case of cabin fever. Marooned at his desk, day after day, week after week, his beard becoming ever more unkempt, I imagine him suddenly smashing down on the keys of his typewriter. He nods to himself and cackles triumphantly: “Lapping lakes like leery loons!” He grins with saliva flecked lips, continuing feverishly: “Pump the plumb! In my arbor till my ardor trumped ...”!

Because let’s be honest, this is nonsense, isn’t it? I know there’s such a thing as poetic licence and all, but still. Sure the ubiquitous assonance and alliteration are perfectly valid literary conceits, enhancing the effect of the voice as almost just another musical instrument, a path after all well trodden by luminaries such as Sigur Ros and the Cochteau Twins. But there is a problem with the marrying of these lyrics with that eerie multilayered falsetto, often almost a drone. Much of it indecipherable, with only the odd phrase seeping through (“on your back with the racks and the stacks as your load!”), it summons such an excess of claustrophobic surrealism, that it demands some deeper meaning, like say the backdrop story in The Antlers' "Hospice".

Instead we're presented with what seems like self-indulgence. All here is evocation. Take the strumming of the acoustic guitar and the extensive use of lente and forte, the same chords repeated and then repeated some more. How cynical this all seems! Nor is it the classic break-up album filled with heartache that it hints at. (“Someday my pain/harness your blame/solace my game” he groans in The Wolves (Act I and II); “Go find another lover to string along” he pleads in For Emma). I mean, how can it be a classic break-up album, when they haven’t even broken up for goodness sake!

So what we're left with is a man who has slightly lost his grip on reality seeking to imbue everything with a meaning that it doesn’t possess. You don’t even need to listen to the music to realise this. Just look at the pseudonym that Vernon adopts for this project, “Bon Iver”, a kind of fictionalised French, carefully designed to create mystique. Take the album title “For Emma Forever Ago”. What does that even mean? That the idea of Emma has always existed? That their love belongs to the past and the future? How about those calculatingly academic and self-conscious song titles, The Wolves (Act I and II) and re: stacks with its studied lower case punctuation? Or those oh so educated references to “kumran” and “torah”? What about the carefully cultivated lyric sheet with its overfussy designation of narrator, him and her in For Emma, including the superfluous “so apropos”? It all screams out pretentiousness.

Sure, now and then Vernon stumbles on to a decent line, like the TS Eliot aping “this is not the sound of a new man or crispy realisation, this is the sound of the unlocking and the lift away”. Even the songs themselves promise much; but somehow the moments are squandered and meander away to nothing. Certainly something strange happens with time when I listen to this album. Some songs seem to last forever, some disappear without a trace as I struggle to recall a single note. Seconds and minutes blur as the rhythm hardly varies throughout the album. A simple, strained melody is repeated over and over, is dropped and then picked up songs later. Except it is still the same song.

Perhaps I’m missing the point here. What Vernon is trying to do is paint a sonic landscape, one that is kept deliberately cryptic so we can invest our own intuitions. But there is a fine line between ambiguous and obtuse, between mystic and charlatan. For me Justin Vernon comes dangerously close to some kind of new age evangelist, chanting a garbled mumbo jumbo of half truths that he craves to be swallowed whole. There's nothing wrong with dressing yourself up as a visionary. But where's the vision?



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user ratings (2542)
Chart.
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Eclectic
June 26th 2010


3302 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I completely disagree with you but that doesn't stop me from LOVING THE HELL OUT OF YOUR REVIEW!
Definite Pos

Just one thing, I think he actually did break up with his girlfriend. Plus there's his old band, you can take it as a metaphor for that.

SeaAnemone
June 26th 2010


20970 Comments


Sputnik's war on "pretension" continues. Who's the next victim?


most of the review is kinda weak, but I loved your last paragraph

Digging: Viet Cong - Viet Cong

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
June 26th 2010


28822 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0 | Sound Off

boner fair

Digging: Charli XCX - Sucker

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
June 26th 2010


17945 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

for all your attempts to make a point, you forget to make a point

megadeth101
June 26th 2010


865 Comments


theacademy rated this a 1

no way!

DiceMan
June 26th 2010


7068 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

123@chan.

Gyromania
June 26th 2010


16089 Comments


456

Gyromania
June 26th 2010


16089 Comments


If you go out in the woods today, you're sure to meet a bearded visionary folk singer.

this is basically my biggest fear.

tombits
June 26th 2010


3471 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

What you perceive as "garbled mumbo jumbo of half truths" is the cathartic quality to this record that I love, so I guess that's where the difference lies. Obviously I disagree, but the last half of your review is beautifully written.

Captain North
June 26th 2010


6792 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Nice review, don't entirely agree but it's still good and a fresh perspective.

ant4tbc
June 26th 2010


373 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

While, sadly I completely disagree with you, I felt this review is well written.

Romulus
June 26th 2010


8447 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

If you go out in the woods today, you're sure to meet a bearded visionary folk singer.

this is basically my biggest fear.


I laughed so hard at this.

Review is interesting at least.

NOTINTHEFACE
June 27th 2010


1653 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"for all your attempts to make a point, you forget to make a point"

Basically. Not bad enough to deserve a neg, but it certainly doesn't deserve a pos.

This basically summarizes how I felt about this album until I had a surreal experience listening to it while trudging through the snow to economics class. Then it all snapped into perspective and it suddenly became incredible. I dunno. Some people get it, some people don't. This album is very polarizing.

Tempertemperature
June 27th 2010


154 Comments


Decent review, but this album deserves far more credit than you give it. Well written reviews don't always contain correct information.

IRAI
June 27th 2010


1567 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

'Team' keeps this album from being a 5. it should've just been an added area to 'Creature Fear'. js.

This review seems to be like a conspiracy theory about the legitimacy of the meanings derived from this album, without getting any insight from the artists who made it.

All "Shrouded" in mystery that doesn't matter. ''IT COULD very well all be a lie we've been sold''. Fukov.

ziroth
June 27th 2010


1252 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

'Team' keeps this album from being a 5. it should've just been an added area to 'Creature Fear'. js.

How/why does the way the album is tracked alter your rating?

IRAI
June 27th 2010


1567 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i put my albums on shuffle after a while and just getting the 'tah tah tah tah tah' as the song not after creature fear makes me wish it was just added on. it annoys me, but i dont want to just get rid of a song to shuffle it...

It's a dumb reason, i know, but it bothers me. Everyone has dumb reasons for not liking things. this is mine.

Douglas
June 27th 2010


9201 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I liked the bit where a point was made... oh wai....

Nah, enjoyed the read.

ziroth
June 27th 2010


1252 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Haha. I agree it should've been added to "Creature Fear"; although, yeah, it wouldn't change my overall opinion of the album.

Anyway, this is too much of an in depth analysis of the lyrical content of the album. While it's well written, I remained unconvinced on most of the points you were trying to make. Let's face it who honestly cares about lyrics if the music is good.

hykudos
June 27th 2010


462 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Bon Iver from Eau Claire, I think he wanted it to rhyme.


awesome review!



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