Release Date: Jun 21, 2011
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
BON IVER play Sound Academy August 8. See listing. Rating: NNNNN So much has changed in Justin Vernon's world since the 2007 release of Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago, a spellbinding indie folk album built on hurt and isolation that earned him critical accolades, legions of fans and collaboration work with, among others, Kanye West. (He contributed his trademark layered falsetto vocals to several Dark Twisted Fantasy tracks.) Miraculously, not only has the Wisconsin musician kept his focus while creating his outstanding three-years-in-the-making follow-up, but he's also significantly expanded his vision.
"And at once I knew I was not magnificent." So sings Justin Vernon in Holocene, his ethereal falsetto serene as he absorbs another of life's burdens and disappointments. The line snags you for two reasons: it's one of the few comprehensible lyrics amid the album's whirlwind of poetic obfuscations; it's also nonsense. Vernon's most magnificent act on this follow-up to 2008's solitary, introspective For Emma, Forever Ago, is to open Bon Iver up to the world.
Justin Vernon's life could be the most implausible reality-TV show ever. Five years ago, he split from his beardy prog-folk band, DeYarmond Edison, and moved to a hunting cabin in Wisconsin, where he recorded a spare, falsetto-filled LP under the moniker Bon Iver. For Emma, Forever Ago was a beautiful record, and it quickly earned Vernon his own cult.
The guy who recorded an album alone in the woods. This line might end up on Justin Vernon's tombstone. There's something irresistible about the thought of a bearded dude from small-town Wisconsin retreating, heartbroken, to a cabin to write some songs-- especially when the result is a record that sounds as hushed and introspective as Bon Iver's 2007 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago.
Not since a creek drank a cradle in 2002 had anyone so quietly overtaken the indie-music community as Justin Vernon did in 2008 with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. That post-break-up album was drenched in the kind of sadness that feels a lot like joy. Rather than wallowing in loss, the music was a hopeful contrast to lyrics like “Saw death on a sunny snow.” It was less like the end of a relationship and more like the promise of a new beginning.
Review Summary: Each song acts like a personal journal entry, documenting Justin Vernon’s experience back with the living.Bon Iver’s debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, was immensely popular in a kind of way that seemed to undoubtedly foretell disaster, or at least some sort of disappointment, for its successor. This was because Emma wasn’t exactly well-regarded due to, say, originality or whatever, but because of the album’s background, its mythology, and how it perfectly presented its narrative. Its story – which is such a well-trod tale that I feel as if I need not repeat; go read some other review for that stuff – overwhelmed, overshadowed, and became the album itself.
On 2008’s critically adored For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver (a misspelling of the French phrase for ”good winter”) was just Justin Vernon, a folky Midwesterner recording in an isolated cabin in the Wisconsin woods with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and a broken heart. Then came Kanye West. The superstar unexpectedly invited Vernon to lend his bendy pipes to last year’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, featuring his original vocals on several tracks and bringing the scruffy, unassuming singer on stage for several high-profile live performances.
Let’s start out with the negative points first, shall we? Then we’ll slowly work our way into the vast number of positive points there are to be made. That way, by the time you finish reading the review, you’ll have forgotten that I ever said a single ill word of Bon Iver, and you’ll go back to listening to Bon Iver on repeat like you’ve been doing for the past two-three weeks. But first, a touch of back story: For Emma, Forever Ago is one of the strongest debuts released by any artist in the past five years.
Fans of Bon Iver won’t be disappointed by this eponymous follow-up. On its predecessor, 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago, frontman Justin Vernon managed to crystallize the essence of his isolated environment and implant it, perfectly intact, into each individual track. The resulting acclaim and accolades, all very much deserved, accelerated Vernon's ascent to notoriety and earned him all the typical accoutrements of indie stardom: sweeping tour schedules, collaborations with Kanye, and a song on the New Moon Motion Picture Soundtrack.
Remember For Emma, Forever Ago? Those rough-hewn, lonesome folk tunes? The shocking beauty of Justin Vernon's raspy falsetto? The cabin in Wisconsin? The mythic, sad (and overblown) back story? Remember all that? Good. Now forget about it. Leave it behind, at least while we talk about Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Because the guy who made this record is not the same guy from 2007.
I’m always a bit suspicious whenever someone tells me that an album has “changed” their life. More often than not, the exact opposite is true. No matter how good, the album in question hasn’t changed a thing at all, but merely affirmed some deeply ingrained, more pleasing vision of the listener’s identity. Many friends, for instance, claimed that they were immediately transformed upon hearing Bon Iver’s 2008 album, For Emma, Forever Ago, but I still can’t notice — three years later — any noticeable difference (if anything, they all just seem a little bit hairier).
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon has come a long way since his curiously beautiful debut, 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago, emerged as both a modern folk masterpiece and the best breakup record this side of Beck’s Sea Change. In addition to his team-up with Collections of Colonies of Bees in Volcano Choir (which produced the equally rich Unmap in 2009), Vernon has had the distinction of collaborating with everyone from St. Vincent to the National, even receiving a writing credit and doing vocal duty on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Change, change, change. I was unexpectedly moved by the half-season finale of South Park recently, which addresses the notion that as you grow older, things you used to love start to seem inconsequential and a bit shitty; relationships strain and alter; people flounder, hurt those around them and ultimately move on. The episode ends on a note of uncertainty, a genuinely touching montage playing out to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’.
When NME feels a bit down we like to phone home, commune with [a]Leonard Cohen[/a] or weep vengefully into our ex’s Facebook profile. If we’ve yet to work through our troubles by beating a retreat to the frozen wilds of Wisconsin to pen our terrific solo debut, that’s because we’re not Justin Vernon. The sojourn in his father’s cabin that birthed [b]‘For Emma, Forever Ago’[/b] is by now the stuff of legend.
The best thing about Bon Iver, Bon Iver is that it sounds exactly like the album you were expecting Justin Vernon to make. Unfortunately, the worst thing about Bon Iver, Bon Iver is that it sounds exactly like the album you were expecting Justin Vernon to make. When For Emma, Forever Ago began making the rounds in early 2008, this quiet, hushed gem of a record managed to reach people in a very immediate fashion: blessed with a killer backstory (that, as fun as it was, was still not necessary to enjoy the album on its own terms) and some flat-out astonishing songs, the ever-bearded Justin Vernon soon became a bit of an indie hero, his haunting voice and simple guitar strums being all that was needed to create an album that will likely be remembered some decades down the line.
Part of the beauty of Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was the intimate, backwoods feel of the recording and the simplicity of Justin Vernon’s soaring, open wound of a voice with only minimal musical backing to distract from its impact. Even though Vernon had a few other people playing on the album, it was easy to imagine a solitary broken soul spilling his guts onto tape for hours at a time while the world went on without him. It was a truly aching, somewhat claustrophobic sound that was beautiful and unique.
Review Summary: It’s not a problem that Vernon hasn't created music in the same style of the last successful album: the problem is that he isn’t able to make that creative jump to a new aesthetic, or direction, successfully at all.“Beth/Rest” fades to its end with its dorky 80s piano and just-so-beachy electric guitar leads, and we're left in awe. Incredibly perplexing awe: Who the hell is Justin Vernon, we wonder at this point, And what the hell is he thinking? Some of you may be tinged with a bit of that unfair expectations bug – just like everyone around us is, basically. Because let’s face it: Justin Vernon will forever be in Emma’s shadow, no matter what he releases in the future.
Back in 2007 when the self-released beauty of For Emma, Forever Ago was still awash for many music fanatics, Bon Iver’s subtle brilliance was just beginning to be realized – let alone recognized. While it took a year for many to finally catch on, perhaps a year or two for an autotune-influenced EP, Blood Bank, to infuse and appearances on a massive Kanye West album, for others to finally get the brilliance flowing, Justin Vernon’s musicianship has merely grown during the last four years. That album’s now famous story on how it was created backdrops Vernon’s proper second album – recorded and created in dissimilar fashion – it is still just as good as the cold, lonely album before it.
One of 2011’s most absorbing, affecting and downright brilliant LPs. Mike Diver 2011 Whatever maudlin magic musician Justin Vernon found in the remoteness of rural Wisconsin come the close of 2006 and the dawn of 2007 – made devastatingly real on his debut LP as Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago – it’s something that many another artist has been trying to conjure since. Dispatch a band into isolation today, to cajole those creative juices, and inevitably some plucky press type will label them as "doing a Bon Iver".
There's a moment during "The Wolves (Act I And II)," from Bon Iver’s breakthrough debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, where the most brutal contrast simply works. It's when Justin Vernon, the center of the indie-folk project, fearlessly inflects the last word of his quietly emotional interrogation, "What might have been lost?" with an Auto-Tuned flourish. It's where the organic meets the electronic and yet, the little upward swing in his voice caps the repeated query perfectly.
Bon Iver fans can be forgiven for a little worry. Who wouldn’t be concerned? Songwriter Justin Vernon left behind his Wisconsin cabin to go play with Kanye and AutoTune. He’s been on Letterman and Austin City Limits, and his debut For Emma, Forever Ago landed on everybody’s top ten list. And he went from hanging out in the Badger State backwoods to playing stages to adoring audiences all over the world.
After emerging from his Wisconsin cabin exile with 2007's hushed and aching falsetto-bled debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon faced a dilemma: The defining debut was less representative of his compositional ambitions than of an anomalous mellow. Indie idolaters yearning for more "Skinny Love" from 2009's Blood Bank EP were left wondering at its fatter, vocoder-trilled "Woods," so as he's branched into projects like Gayngs' soft-serve indie R&B and Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his earnest, bearded, folky image has faded like so much Iron & Wine. Vernon's sophomore disc thus rings both reassuring and refreshing for fans of the Bon Iver moniker.