FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO BY BON IVER - RECORD OF THE YEAR?
Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago has cropped up on a lot of album of the year lists. For those who haven't heard it, it's a bunch of well-crafted, tuneful indie-ish songs, played on guitar, sung in a pleasing, treble-y voice, often multitracked so that at extremes it sounds as if it's being sung by a small choir. The effects pedal is used frequently but tastefully, principally to add echo. The effect is at once intimate, thanks to the subject matter (a broken love affair), the vocal style and the use of silence and quiet passages, and sweeping, thanks to the echo and overdubs.
The story behind the album is that Bon Iver, whose real name is Justin Vernon, retreated to a cabin in a Wisconsin wilderness after splitting up with the Emma of the title. He took with him a guitar, a couple of drums, an effects pedal and some basic recording equipment. He spent three winter months in the cabin, writing and recording and emerged with the songs that make up the album. The bleakness of the landscape seems to have chimed with his mood and it is easy to hear in For Emma, Forever Ago a sense of wintry, solitary despair and reflection. "Bon Iver" is, near enough, French for 'good winter'.
I bought the record in the summer, played it a couple of times, put it on my iPod and forgot about it. I got it out recently and listened to it a few times: I do like it, but clearly not as much as some of its fans.
The reviews have praised the music, but also responded strongly to the back story of the heartbroken young man in his cabin in the woods. The story adds that valuable quality of authenticity: had For Emma, Forever Ago been funded by Simon Cowell and recorded in a studio in West London, good though it is, I doubt that it would have received quite the same acclaim.