A RETROSPECTIVE SCENE: Bon Iver – “For Emma, Forever”
Shout out to our modern-day Thoreau.
Justin Vernon is in a class of his own. It would be hard to find someone who has gone from recording a debut LP in isolation in the woods of Wisconsin to being on one of rap’s biggest records with one of the craziest artists. this century has seen so far.
For Emma there is always is an incredibly sad record and an incredibly raw experience. I remember hearing it for the first time and recognizing the raw tangibility of the whole presentation. Vernon is a master of emotion, and from “Flume” to “Re: Stacks”, he proves it 9 times in a row.
This album is not completely sad either. The flickers of hope stand out on tracks like “Lump Sum” and “Skinny Love,” even though they’re downtrodden overall. These complexities further strengthen its classification as a masterpiece. It is a beautiful and very clear demonstration of the human condition reflecting the experience of love, loss, reflection and rebirth/reincarnation.
As a whole, this album bears a very strong resemblance to Elliot Smith. The sadness is palatable and the instrumentation is whimsical. The quality of the bedroom production heightens its authenticity, and Vernon decently directs the listener to feel what they feel, even if it sounds this lonely. It is rather breathtaking.
The centerpieces of this album perfectly reflect the institutional nature of isolation. “The Wolves (Act I and II)” sounds like a start on track, and we’re headed for a complete dismantling of all musical cohesion, only to then turn around to get on the right track and gain momentum. . In the end, it becomes the musical equivalent of a speeding steam train. It’s beautiful, sad, endearing and relatable.
“Blindside” is earnest and engaging with a deep tangibility that instantly transports the listener to the fireside of a choir, except that each vocalist is Justin Vernon in varying states of contemplation and emotion. Her spectral desperation exudes a definable sincerity that paints a full picture of the multiple emotions and feelings one experiences in a failing relationship.
The last track I want to highlight is “For Emma”. With his very indebted introduction to “Fade Into You,” Vernon channels that alternative dark country sadness, merges it with his own folksy sadboy-tinged energy, and adds some sufjan stevens horns to boot. It’s an amazing track that lingers with you for a long time. The sparse, minimalist production emphasizes space; maybe between people, between emotions, between thoughts? Who knows, exactly, and I’m ok with not knowing, just to experience the beauty of it all.
Unlike my sad number 1 singer, Elliot, Vernon emerged from the isolation and depression that helped define the sound of this album. And moving past that, Vernon went on to shapeshift in a Stevens-like style, and provided us with an incredibly complex gem of a follow-up (and arguably one of the most important records of this decade) with Good Iver. The complexity of this case, and Good IverThe artistic production of is prefigured by this first album. Sadness as beautiful art is quite an amazing thing. I hope Emma is doing well.