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For Emma, Forever Ago

288 customer reviews

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Audio CD, February 19, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Justin Vernon began recording as Bon Iver following the breakup of DeYarmond Edison, an indie folk group similar in tone and manner to Iron & Wine, Little Wings and, to a certain extent, Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Pronounced 'bohn eevair', it is French for "good winter" which is spelled wrong deliberately. This debut CD is centered around Justin Vernon, who is the primary force behind Bon Iver, as he moved to a remote cabin in the woods of Northwestern Wisconsin at the onset of winter, alone for three months. From this solitary time emerged a bold, uninhibited new musical focus of all his personal trouble, lack of perspective, heartache, longing, love, loss, and guilt that had been stockpiled over the past six years into songs. The NY Times called this record "irresistible", and it was given a "Recommended" rating by Pitchfork. 9 tracks. Jagjaguwar Records. 2008.

It's hard to believe that For Emma, Forever Ago is the work of one man. But when Justin Vernon's old band split he hauled himself (and presumably plenty of instruments and recording equipment) to his dad's hunting cabin in the woods of Wisconsin for the coldest season and worked through his issues in musical form. (The name comes from the French for "good winter"--"bon hiver"). By the start of the spring thaw he had recorded the bulk of this stunning debut, originally self-issued to acclaim last year in the USA and now picked up for a British release. Vernon's voice grabs the ear from the start, switching easily into a smooth falsetto (and unusually for a white indie lad, without the slightest intent of emulating Prince). The formula is straightforward. He layers his vocal harmonies, while a gently strummed acoustic rhythm guitar just about holds the centre. All else from horns to slide guitar is mere detail. The quality is rough and ready but the effect is strangely similar though to the slick vocal confections of European women like Bjork and Camille, all mystery and distance. It's the musical equivalent of reading someone else's diary. In code. Through a dirty window. Enigmatic songs like the elegantly stumbling "Creature Fear" with its rowdy horn parts, the resolute opener "Flume" and the evanescent "Team" are just so pretty they seem to glide by without leaving a mark in the snow. Vernon is apparently a straightforward and friendly guy, but For Emma, Forever Ago genuinely sounds like something from a far off place. --Steve Jelbert
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 19, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Jagjaguwar
  • ASIN: B0011HF6GE
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (288 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,545 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 92 people found the following review helpful By Marc Cabir Davis on December 17, 2008
Format: Audio CD
I can see why reaction to Bon Iver is so fragmented. There are those who hail it an instant epic, and others who think its pastoral nonsense. I'm somewhat in the middle - granted, these sorts of slow burner indie-folk albums aren't for everybody, but there is definitely something more special about this particular album - more so because its a concept album about that most universal of animals - lost love.

While the harmonies here are subdued and very, very slow-paced, the atmosphere of the entire album is what makes it work. There is a heady iciness to the entire venture, a sort of morbid sadness even, one that permeates every single track. Like Camille's "Le Fil" which had a drone running through each song (and for minutes after the last song played), this mood of sombre melancholy is present in spades on this album, and this also works for it.

The centerpiece is the two-suite "The Wolves" and the luminous "Team". None of these songs work especially well on their own. Like any good novel, each song blends into the other so that the album needs to be listened to in chronological order. Bon Iver's mastery of the sparse musical medium is astounding, and the way he makes every track here speak its' own unique brand of solitudinal longing, is a work of art waiting to be unraveled.

For many people who read this positive review, you might well buy this album and be shocked by the 'dull', 'slow' songs therein. This is in part true. It takes a while to 'get' what the artist is trying to accomplish here, but if you approach this as a rich experimental piece worth investing in, you just might reap some invaluable rewards.

Highly Recommended.
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84 of 93 people found the following review helpful By John on February 19, 2008
Format: Audio CD
Upon hearing "Skinny Love", probably the most accessible song on "For Emma, Forever Ago", it was running through my head the rest of the week as I played it over and over again. This should in no way denigrate the rest of the album, which packs a surprising punch in 9 subtle songs. It would be easy to just treat "For Emma..." as background music, but a careful listen reveals layers of melody overlaid by Justin Vernon's impressive vocals.

"The Wolves (Act I and II)" starts off slowly but builds into a powerful message at the album's core:
What might have been lost
Don't bother me
The title track "For Emma" further embellishes on what might have been lost with a mixture of trumpet and strained guitar. The crooning of "Creature Fear" builds into the wonderfully moody instrumental "Team".

It is often mentioned that this album was written over the course of 4 wintry months in a Wisconsin cabin. Stereotyping the quiet solitude of this album on its origins is unfair, however: this isn't just one of those singer/songwriter efforts you hear about some guy writing on his own out in the woods; it is the epitome of a singer/songwriter recording the heartfelt musings of life in isolation.

I highly recommend this album--it's subtle tones on first listen grow into brilliance.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Joules on January 12, 2009
Format: Audio CD
I love this album. I first heard it in a little speakeasy bar in Chicago and I fell in love with it. It's great for those mornings when you're just waking up and you want to sit down with a cup of coffee and stare out of the window at the freshly fallen snow. It's perfect even for those lazy Sundays where it seems all too appropriate to make blueberry pancakes at 4pm-- you know, just because.

It's a great Wintery album with a hint of Spring towards the end. It's peaceful but yet it pulls at you from somewhere deep within, making you want you swoon with him. It is a musical diary of a heartbroken man.

And it is glorious.
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59 of 73 people found the following review helpful By Niklas P. Andersson on March 20, 2008
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I'm afraid to listen to this record too much as I don't ever want it's brilliance to dim. Best thing I've heard in quite a while. Let's see, Feist was the last artist that moved me like this, not that Bon Iver is anything like that and he'll probably never be over played in trendy boutique, but there's something so deep and soulful in the plaintive whisperings on this record. Mostly it's quiet, mostly it's bone chillingly beautiful. I actually bought it with Neil Young's Live at Massey Hall, and they somehow speak to each other with a sidelong glance to Vashti Bunyan's Lookaftering. Take a chance on this like I did, you won't be disappointed. I hope to hear more from Bon Iver!
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 11, 2008
Format: Audio CD
The creation story is already a legend.

As winter descended, Justin Vernon moved to his father's cabin in the woods of Northwestern Wisconsin. He was "60 miles away from anyone I love, sometimes more like 1500." But he was "about 18 feet away from everything I love" --- a pile of old guitars, a mound of microphones, wires, chords, electric boxes. For several months, he dug in, chopping wood, thinking, writing, playing, recording. When he emerged, he had nine songs, about 35 minutes of music.

He smartly added a bit of production here, some backup there, and let the music breathe. Overnight, a cult formed. Now he and his two-man band are known as Bon Iver --- a play on the French for "good winter" --- and his debut CD is on all the best iPods.

The creation story hasn't hurt. But this is one time an ascent is almost totally because of the musical achievement. Here's Vernon's take:

"It's been painted in the reviews of the record as this magical four months of hunkering down and writing a record. In reality I headed out to the cabin because I just didn't know what to do next in my life. Once I got there though it just felt like all the blocks that I had put in my brain and heart in terms of musical expression started to loosen. They had been there for so long and the only thing that was able to loosen them up, and loosen me up, was having that much space...."

Space, as it turns out, is the glory of "For Emma". The lyrics are sparse and enigmatic --- the opening lines of the CD are "I am my mother's only one/It's enough" --- and sometimes they're more sounds than words. The music will strike prissy listeners as mere strumming.
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