Sunday 30 March 2008

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver - Flume

We've all had that feeling; when things get on top of you and you wish you could escape somewhere and shut the world away. After the break up of his long time band, DeYarmond Edison, Justin Vernon removed himself to a remote cabin in the woods of Northwestern Wisconsin for four months over winter. He spent his days splitting wood and generally working the land and in this isolation and contemplation recorded the bulk of this extraordinary album.

Bon Iver is a corruption of the French for 'good winter' and the recording of this album has clearly been a cathartic experience for Vernon. It is filled with love, loss and emotion and with its starting point of a man alone with his thoughts and a guitar the album actually builds into something far larger. I mean this literally with the addition of extra vocals and instruments on tracks like Flume and For Emma but elsewhere, with the layering of his own voice Vernon creates a surprisingly full sound and with necessity the mother of invention the album contains some musical surprises too, this isn't just an album of folky guitar strumming.

On most tracks Vernon employs a falsetto but his range is much wider on tracks like Skinny Love. The Wolves (Acts I and II) has a soulful and, dare I say it, funky feel to the vocals as he repeats 'What might have been lost'. Blindsided begins with a single note repeated but from this he weaves layer upon layer of voice to create something surprisingly complex. Lyrically the album can be a little obtuse but on some tracks there is total clarity. Closing track re:stacks is a beautiful finish in which, despite my talk of catharsis, he sings ' This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization/It's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away/Your love will be/Safe with me'

So if you ever get that feeling I mentioned earlier and you can't get away to the country, take the phone off the hook, put this album on and enjoy, there isn't a weak track on it.


John Self 8 August 2008 at 07:50  

My brother-in-law recommended this to me. He's eight years younger than me and pretty 'cool' and I've enjoyed other recommendations of his (which you've probably reviewed also!) like The National, The Skids, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie. But I picked this one up and held it to a listening post in the shop formerly known as Virgin and was pretty disappointed. Seemed very folksy to me, and I'm afraid there's something in folk which just rubs me up completely the wrong way. Even the great Stephen Duffy bored me rigid when he takes the Lilac Time down that particular country road.

William Rycroft 10 August 2008 at 08:09  

I'm sorry you were disappointed John, it certainly has a folksy feel and I know that can be a bit of a turn off, but I think that repeated listens reveal something a bit more complex than that strumming-round-a-camp-fire tedium which sums up lots of folk. If you didn't like this then steer clear of Fleet Foxes, my other favourite find of this year.

Anonymous,  15 August 2008 at 14:21  

Bon Iver's definitely the year's best for me so far. Fleet Foxes and Nick Cave probably not far behind. Portishead's 'Third' was initially disappointing but has grown on me a bit, and i'm enjoying Micah P Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra - which you might also like if you're into alt-country/folk. In reply to your comment on my site about Grizzly Bear I've also flagged up the forthcoming album by the affiliated Department of Eagles. Any other major 2008 recommendations?

William Rycroft 16 August 2008 at 08:04  

Well, for quality pop I've been really enjoying Vampire Weekend. For something a little more considered I'd recommend Elbow. I also discovered Joan As Police Woman this year; beautiful emotional song writing. All a bit different from the alt-country we've been talking about but variety is the spice of life!

Max Cairnduff 6 October 2010 at 00:09  

I got this recently. It is very good, but in places it reminds me very strongly, perhaps too strongly, of Neil Young.

Which isn't knocking Neil Young. Quite the contrary, the problem is that he's hard to live up to.

I notice you like Vampire Weekend. How did you find the second album? I thought it not as strong. I saw them live a while back, it turns out they cope poorly with driving icy rain. Too much of a summery sound. Still good though.

William Rycroft 6 October 2010 at 09:16  

Neil Young does cast a pretty lengthy shadow. I had a listen to this recently and thought it stood up pretty well, even after all the hype had died down. It's a very atmospheric piece that I always want to listen to from start to finish.

I liked Vampire Weekend's second album but definitely prefer the first. I can well imagine the bad juxtaposition of 'Upper West Side Soweto' and the pouring ran. It calls for a Mansard Roof!

Max Cairnduff 6 October 2010 at 11:22  

I'm not that plugged into the hype, so thankfully I came to the album without much by way of expectations. I only bought it a month or so back. It's growing on me, but then I often find albums do that. When I first listened to LCD Soundsystem I thought it was derivative crap. I was wrong though, it's now among my favourite stuff.

The second album for VW is good, it's just not got quite the same number of spikes of brilliance that the first had. Difficult second album syndrome I guess.

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