Album of the Year: Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago"

When Justin Vernon’s band and love relationship both broke up, he moved from Raleigh, NC, back to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and for three months he took up residence in his father’s cabin in the woods — three cold months: December 2006 – February 2007.  During those months, though he only to recuperate and not write songs, write songs he did.

When he emerged from the cabin, he’d written and recorded the songs to what would become For Emma, Forever Ago, the first project of his new band, Bon Iver (an anglicanization of the French phrase bon hiver, “good winter”).  The tracks were later overdubbed with some percussion, flute, horns, and even a choir on one song — a part that Bon Iver invites their crowds to sing at their live shows.

If you’ve never been to a cabin in the north woods of Minnesota or Wisconsin, this is what it sounds like.  This album will transport you there.

Although it might remind you of Iron & Wine, Vernon’s falsetto is ethereal and the the album’s underproduced rawness (like, for instance, the buzz of guitar strings on the fretboard) set it apart.

Give yourself a gift that’s more Advent than Christmas, and get this album:

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  • Daniel

    Good choice! This album’s been in my mix all year… I’m just disconsolate about not being able to see them when they came through MSP those few times.

  • Dave

    Yes. This is an incredible album!

  • I loved this album when I first heard it, and played the heck out of it. It tired out for me a little more quickly than I thought it would, but I returned to it a couple weeks ago and think that it has at least 2-3 tracks that’ll be mainstays.
    The first time I played “Skinny Love” for my wife, I said, “I guarantee you this song makes ‘Gray’s Anatomy’ this year,” and lo and behold it did. (I loathe GA–the wife loves it, and I read or do the budget while she watches it–but they do a nice job of finding unique moody pop.)

  • Ryan

    Technically this came out in 2007 and was reissued in 2008. Normally I wouldn’t care about the technicality, but MPR played the hell out of it last fall/winter, and a lot of blogs (including Pitchfork) included it on their 2007 lists. But a decent album, to be sure.
    Do you ever listen to Bonnie “Prince” Billy? If you like Bon Iver, Iron & Wine, Phosphorescent, Jeff Tweedy, etc., then you’d do well to check him out. “I See A Darkness” is one of the better albums to come out in the last 25 years.

  • Jon

    if you search around, a few songs of his new EP have already leaked.

  • Ryan

    The whole EP’s out there at this point; I’d post a link, but this maybe doesn’t seem like an appropriate place to do so. Suffice it to say that if you Google: “bon iver blood bank rar” or “bon iver blood bank zip” you shouldn’t have much trouble. Of course, if you like it, you should probably pick it up at a show or buy it directly from the label. I know I will–those kids at Jagjaguwar at the best!

  • beau

    Could not agree more. ESPECIALLY about the sense of place the album captures. Reminds me of my grandma’s cabin in Ely, MN.

  • Yeah, Ryan, you’re right. I’m cheating a bit. He self-released it in 2007, but I’ll claim the label release makes it a 2008 for my purposes!

  • Ryan

    Yeah, it’s always a bit of confusion when something like that happens. A band releases digitally one year, physically the next; gets reissued by a national after an independent release; pushes the release date back into the next year after the album’s all over the internet; etc. It’s like they don’t think about the music bloggers at all!

  • Thanks for the recomendation. I just purchased it off of itunes and love it.