Review Summary: The ultimate album of the 21st century so far?
On a cold day in December I was thinking about what the ultimate album for the 21st century would be so far. Not just the perfect album for a particular genre, but the classic album that could be enjoyed by all music lovers. I was thinking that this album would contain: heartfelt yet discreet lyrics with very complicated subject manner, a singer that has a voice that can have the uniqueness of a Thom Yorke, and the simplicity of your average acoustic singer, the album would be simple and not full of all the electronic and techno driven music that drives down the quality of the music today, and finally the album would be beautiful and would be one of those albums that just flows very swiftly from track to track. As soon as I gave myself the criteria for the perfect album I soon realized that this album would be impossible for any person or group of people to produce. Then on this December day I listened to Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago” for the first time.
Vernon’s lyrics are one of the things that make this album the classic album that it is. The lyrics match the dreary acoustic sound that the instruments in each song make perfectly. In “Skinny Love” when the acoustic guitar is played much faster in the chorus, Vernon screams, “I told you to be patient, I told you to be fine, I told you to be balanced, I told you to be fine”, some off the most aggressive lyrics you will ever hear yet they are still match the tempo of the song nicely. Vernon also doesn’t make his particularly take the for front of each song, on “re: Stacks”, Vernon practically whispers some of the most clever lines you will ever hear during the chorus of the album’s closer: “On your back, with the racks as the stacks as your load”. These lyrics might all seem very simple lyrics just sang to match the acoustic guitar strummed on every song, but the lyrics on the album contain a ton of meaning and it shows. After his music career had hit a bump in the road, his love of his life had just left him alone, Vernon decided to move to a very remote cabin in Wisconsin and recorded and wrote music for 12 hours a day about what was ailing him. This intense subject manner comes out all throughout the album: on the track “For Emma” Vernon sings: “With all your lies, your still very loveable”, and on “The Wolves [Act 1 & 2] he whispers: “Someday my pain, will mark you”. The lyrics on this album are excellent because they match the tempo of the music nicely, and they all have great meaning and lasting value.
It is hard to describe Vernon’s voice, but it is definitely one of the qualities that makes him extremely unique and will give him lots of lasting value. A lot of people describe his voice simply as just a “falsetto”, but I believe what makes Vernon’s voice so good is that it can change from track to track. Vernon could be just complacent singing on the falsetto that he first presents on the opener “Flume”, but we also hear him scream and shriek in a voice as the drums go berserk in “The Wolves [Act 1 & 2”]. You will also hear Vernon whine in a beautiful and sort of high pitched voice in the song “Creature Fear” or you could hear him very calmly whisper the verses of “Blindsided”, but then weirdly scream the breakdown of the fifth track. If there is any consistency with Vernon’s voice, it is that it is excellent and fits the acoustic music formed by each song. And if you can change your voice every song and still have it fit your music, that itself is a rarity in today’s music scene.
One of the things that has really frustrated me about today’s music scene is that it has almost become an “arms race”. What I mean by this is that it seems like in today’s culture that whoever has the latest and greatest technology, the most simplistic and poppy lyrics, and the biggest audience are the people the critics consider the “best of the best”. This is almost never true, and is a disgrace to the people that actually do music for the thrill of making music like Justin Vernon. Vernon creates a very simple album here as every song is acoustic and sounds like it is self-produced. It is an album that can be listened to at any place and it fits the location perfectly. One of the great things about Vernon’s debut is that it is simplistic yet magnificent, and even the critics have noticed since every else about the album is up to such a high standard.
Words cannot describe the sheer beauty that “For Emma, Forever Ago” entails. When you combine Vernon’s constantly changing falsetto, the acoustic atmosphere, and the very meaningful lyrics you are destined to have one of the most beautiful albums ever. The breakdowns on the album are especially beautiful because they add so much replay value to each song: the breakdown on “The Wolves Act 1 & 2” reminds me a lot of the ending of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” as one climatic and catchy line is repeated over and over in the same voice as the instruments go crazy in the background, the ending to “Blindsided” features two of Vernon’s unique voices singing in complete unison which makes for an enchanting listening experience. The sheer beauty of this album is almost unmatched.
The flow of “For Emma, Forever Ago” is also breathtaking and magnificent. The transition from “Lump Sun” to “Skinny Love” is great and the tracks are placed perfectly side-by-side. The best transition of the album though is from “Creature Fear” to “Team”. Even though “Team” keeps the same beautiful music as “Creature Fear” it is just an instrumental, and what makes this transition really great is that you don’t even realize that a song change has occurred until you begin listening to “For Emma”. The flow on this album is very good and often perfect, which makes this an even more enjoyable listening experience.
“For Emma, Forever Ago”, is the album that could be characterized as the 21st Century American version of “Ok Computer” musically or it could have the scene changing effect of “Nevermind”. Meaning that this album, while not being as innovative and groundbreaking as Radiohead release, could have the lasting effect of Radiohead's "Ok Computer", which is still widely considered one of the greatest albums of the 1990's if not of all time, and it could have the scene chaning effect of Nirvana's "Nevermind", so we could see a return to back to roots simple music in the future from some up and coming and prominent artists. The album is absolutely perfect in every aspect needed to be a classic album for all listeners.