For Emma, Forever Ago: Bon Iver

foremma_cover1If you read my Top 10 Albums of 2008 post earlier in the week you’ll be aware that Bon Iver’s LP For Emma, Forever Ago was my favourite album of this year.  You’ll also know I declined to offer a full review owing to the fact that the record is on pretty much everyone’s end of year lists, and has therefore been just about blogged to death… Being that as a result of that post I’ve been getting loads of traffic looking for Bon-Iver-related stuff, as a good, upstanding citizen I’ve decided to give in and actually write something of worth about the record (and now hopefully there’ll be slightly fewer disappointed people milling about at chez Eaten by Monsters).

Technically speaking, For Emma has no right to be on so many Best of 08 lists as it was released in 2007 by Jagjaguwar.  Thankfully for those of us in the free world (a.k.a. east of the Atlantic and west of the Pacific) it wasn’t given a UK release until 4AD squeezed it out this year, so I’m perfectly entitled to claim it as an 08 release.

Upon its release the record received an unprecedented amount of positive press from all over the place.  I read most of the monthly and weekly music magazines, and I can’t think of a single less-than-four-star review.  Coupled with the actual high quality of the music was the romantic (if somewhat apocryphal) tale of Justin Vernon’s 100 years of solitude (Bon Iver is Vernon’s chosen nom de guerre).  The story goes that he holed himself up in a log cabin in the woods for three months, and then preceded to record most of the album all by himself (hence the García Márquez reference) and ate nothing but moose that he’d hunted down himself.  I’m not an advocate of full journalistic rigor, and I can’t verify how much of this story’s actually true, but having read a few interviews with the man himself it appears at least the gist of it is accurate.

To be honest I was surprised at the popularity of For Emma.  It’s not an easy record to get into, as the conditions have to be just right: owing to the sparse, atmospheric nature of the music you absolutely cannot listen to it in a car, for example, as half the frequency range gets eaten up be engine noise.  To be “got” it requires attentive listening in a quiet environment; something I had previously thought to be beyond the casual music fan.

Since the success of the LP, Vernon’s gathered a trusted cadre of musicians around him and has been touring non-stop.  You can hear the new “live” sound at the Bon Iver Daytrotter session and judge for yourself if the transition has worked.  For myself, I think the result is a mixed bag: obviously extra musicians can add a lot to a song, but the haunting atmosphere of the CD has been mostly lost in translation (with the exception of Creature Fear, included below).

And now it seems there’s another release on the way.  I’ve heard a couple of the tracks, and they sound pretty hot; they’re similar enough to For Emma to keep the fans happy, but there seems to be at least a bit of experimentation going on (especialy in the “creative use of auto-tune” department).  I’m not 100% sure that they’re official promotional pre-releases though, so I won’t post them until I’m sure I wouldn’t be feeding naughty music piracy.  Either way, the Blood Bank EP is due for release soon, and I’m sure we’ll all watch young Justin’s progress with great interest.

Bon Iver – Skinny Love

Bon Iver – Creature Fear (Daytrotter Session)

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