Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago


5.0
classic

Review

by Tom Gellatly USER (40 Reviews)
July 9th, 2011 | 47 replies | 6,465 views


Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: It's not often that an album comes along which is so resolutely more significant than the relatively unimpressive sum of its parts. For Emma, Forever Ago is one of those albums, a record which really does, for once, have the X factor.

5 of 5 thought this review was well written

The story of For Emma, Forever Ago's genesis has attained such a legendary quality in folk music circles that it's almost easy to forget about the album behind it all. As evocative and poetic our mental images of Justin Vernon locked away in a cabin in Wisconsin are, they shouldn't come into play when considering For Emma, Forever Ago's quality as a collection of nine songs. It's quite lucky, then, that it more than holds up to its fairytale origin story.

It's hard to describe the actual sounds of this album without it sounding like the kind of music one would hear emanating from some godforsaken Starbucks, with the CD being touted as their 'hot new pick.' Yes, Bon Iver's music is fairly minimalist, primarily acoustic folk, with layered falsetto vocals. Yes, the lyrics are somewhat obfuscatory in terms of revealing any actual meaning at points. And yes, some people might call this 'hipster music,' whatever that means. So whilst those three things might sound rather like a recipe for a cliched musical disaster, For Emma manages to shrug off any trepidation one might feel when going into it, and it ultimately comes together as being so, so, so much more than the sum of its parts that one would be forgiven for wondering if they had fallen foul of some sort of musical trickery.

Opening track 'Flume' is demonstrative of the template for much of the album; incredibly simple chord progression, lovely falsetto vocals delivering oblique, heartbroken one-liners about love, all topped off with some impressive layering as it goes along. The second track doesn't do too much to mix up this formula. The third track, too, manages to keep this up. The fourth track... well, you get the idea. The only real variety to be found on For Emma is in it's quasi-title track, as some unexpected but welcome horns feature alongside a slightly less melancholy chord progression than we're used to. Overall, though, I find myself frustratingly able to sympathise with some critics' complaints that the album is 'samey,' and that it can quite easily 'all blend into one song.' Whilst these complaints are actually fairly justifiable, I'd also be quick to point out that such people are quite missing the point of the album.

As one-dimensional as it could be deemed to be, For Emma, Forever Ago has slowly been working its way up my 'all time favourite albums' list ever since I first heard it. It's the kind of album that feels enchanted, like it's been given some unfair advantage against other music by just having this innate sort of depth, an inherent sense of meaning, which other folk albums lack so pitifully. By the time you reach the album closer, Re: Stacks, on your first listen, you'd have to be pretty stoic to not be at least a little more affected than you normally are by this type of music. As Justin Vernon tells the listener that 'this is not the sound of a new man or crispy realisation,' hearts will break. There's something so poignant in the man's delivery, so profound in his poetry, that this review couldn't help but be utterly taken in from his first listen to his fiftieth, years later on.

And whilst it might well seem like I haven't actually given a sufficient reason for For Emma, Forever Ago's ability to tower so effortlessly over its peers in the genre, that's most likely because the reason has to be experienced by listening. Sure, Damien Rice's voice is just as pleasant, his lyrics just as nostalgic and his music just as basic. Sure, Bright Eyes might have a keener knack for storytelling, and so on. But what Justin Vernon has is, for lack of a less overused term, 'the X factor.' There's simply some magical ingredient, some perfect quality which For Emma, Forever Ago is naturally imbued with, and it's something that's severely lacking in most music today.

So if you're one of the many who's listened, digested and still come away unimpressed, maybe it just didn't hit you in the same way it has me, and countless others. But if it did work it's magic on you, if it did touch you in a way in which music hadn't done since the time of Dylan and Springsteen, then you know just how lucky we all are to have Justin Vernon's unequivocal masterpiece immortalised for our pleasure. I read somewhere that Vernon originally intended to only release the album on a limited run and distribute it exclusively amongst his friends before the record label picked it up; unlike the man himself's sentiments as expressed on the album, what might have been lost really does bother me. Now, you'll have to excuse me while I go and let Re: Stacks destroy me once again.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
MarvellousG
July 9th 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

It's really, really difficult for me to get across my feelings about this album, but I hope I did so at least semi-adequately here. Please comment/pos if you enjoyed reading!

Titan50
July 9th 2011



4588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I have this as a 5 yet I still feel it hasn't fully grown on me yet

Trebor.
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011



49801 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Still haven't heard this

Digging: Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) - You Will Eventually Be Forgotten

MarvellousG
July 9th 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

@Titan50, I feel the same way, it really does feel like it will be one of the albums that I return to for my whole life.

@Trebor17, I would say 'FIX THAT NOW' or something to that effect, but keep in mind that it's a real grower. Flume is amazing first time round, though.

Maniac!
July 9th 2011



26246 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Oh look, another 5 review.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011



7314 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This has become one of my all time favourites over the past month or so.

Hard times etc

MarvellousG
July 9th 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Hey, when you get the urge to do a review for a 5 that you've realised is a REALLY fivey 5, it's hard to resist.

FromDaHood
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011



9033 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Skinny love blows me a way every time

Curse.
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011



7970 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Skinny Love is maybe the fourth best song

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011



7314 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The last two tracks are probably my favourites, but the whole thing is incredible

MarvellousG
July 9th 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Creature Fear is becoming a dark horse favourite for me atm.

FelixCulpa
July 9th 2011



1237 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

It's all about The Wolves (Atc I and II)

Romulus
July 9th 2011



8413 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

and everything

MarvellousG
July 9th 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

*everything except Team

MarvellousG
July 9th 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

True, although I feel like this is one of the more deserving 'universal 5s,' unlike, say, Jane Doe, but that's a whole other issue.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Creature Fear is my favourite from this too. I think this is #8 on my all time list or something.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011



7314 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Well I only have 8 5's so...

MarvellousG
July 9th 2011



368 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

It's in my top 20 albums, for sure.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
July 9th 2011



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I have exactly 50 5s but one is a joke and one doesnt really count so 48. The point is that it's my eighth favourite album

Monheim
July 9th 2011



250 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Holy crap all these 5s...



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