J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Now Departing:
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago


Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago
(Jagjaguwar ; 2008)


This record was floating along in my peripheral until I heard one word that, of late, has made me sit up and pay serious attention here in North Carolina: Megafaun.

Now, this is a bit of a stretch - Bon Iver is Justin Vernon who used to be a member of DeYarmond Edison. When he split, the remainder of the band relocated to North Carolina and became the really fantastic Megafaun. Vernon became Bon Iver and it was one this connection that I decided to give this album a listen. The connections I make in order to justify my attentions sometime, honestly. Well, this time it paid off. In spades. For Emma, Forever Ago is exactly the type of insular, minimalist folk CD that I needed to hear.

Now, I just lost a handful of readers with the words 'insular,' 'minimalist' and 'folk.' But these are just the framing devices for a truly, spectacular American music record. A lot of the album finds its roots in American folk, blues and simmering, lo-fi-spirited rock. The latter part is important as the album has a feel that epitomizes the spirit of lo-fi records but is produced to the last detail. The multi-tracked vocals of Vernon deliver his falsetto/mid-high range vocals impressively. This is, again, something that initially might turn people off, but Vernon delivers his vocals with such emotional conviction that they become absolutely gorgeous throughout the album's running time.

A record that harbors this many tracks of spare song structure would normally wind up boring, but the album's saving grace is that it uses just enough instrumentation to keep this from happening. "The Wolves (Act I and II)" spends nearly the first three minutes using vocals and sparsely, not even consistently, strummed guitar to build a spare, hollow feeling throughout. Then comes the vocoder. You heard me: the vocoder. The line: "What might have been lost" is delivered repeatedly with the word 'lost' tweaked in a style reminiscent of a boy band. (Remember Ralph Wiggum's sung lines in "Drop 'Da Bomb" from the Party Posse episode of The Simpsons? The robotic voice? Yeah, that one.) But it's done in such a disarming way, so subtly, what would be exceedingly cheesy anywhere else, or even turned up a little louder, works wonderfully to break the building melancholy.

Occasionally the record bursts out of its guise and into another. "For Emma" comes out with horns and wailing, plaintive guitar work over top of the prevalent acoustic strumming. It sounds like a murkier, more dusky revisiting of some of the high points of Hayden's catalogue (Skyscraper National Park especially). The gorgeous "Blindsided" sounds like a great lost pop song buried in the dust. "Skinny Love" is the epitome of a lot of the best songs on this album - singing that pierces through the sparse surroundings and raises the guitar from mere undergirding to vocal partner.

At 37 minutes there is not a wasted moment on For Emma, Forever Ago. It begs the question - would a similar follow-up be as evocative? But for now, there's no reason to even ponder that. It stands out as a fantastic achievement in well-traveled halls.

Rating: A(udiophilic)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Judge For Yourself:

Bon Iver - "Skinny Love"

Bon Iver - "The Wolves (Act I and II)"

Bon Iver - "For Emma"

Download For Emma, Forever Ago from EMusic.

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2 Comments:

  • At 1:42 AM, February 26, 2008, Anonymous sarae said…

    Ooh, I'm so glad you posted this. I heard about him awhile ago, and of course a Northern WI artist caught my attention. Heard a song the other week, and I have been meaning to seek out more.

    It sounds like one of those albums that I could spend a winter listening to on repeat - thankfully the winter is almost over, though.

     
  • At 11:50 PM, February 26, 2008, Anonymous S. said…

    Good job on the rating :)

     

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