This Bon Iver article was written by Nick Palmer, a GIGsoup contributor
Depression and tough times usually serve as a great material for an artist, but Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon seemed to take it a bit far. He spent three months “hibernating” in a remote Wisconsin cabin after the break-up of his relationship, all the while suffering from mononucleosis (aka, kissing disease, or mono). From this troubled phase in his life, came For Emma, Forever Ago (literally – he recorded all the basic tracks for the album in his little hibernation cabin).
Though it was independently released by Bon Iver in 2007, 4AD took up the effort in the UK and licensed this fantastic indie folk record, a move which further brought the record label back into relevance after a low phase in the label’s history.
‘Flume’ starts the album off on the right note – morose and introspective, “I am my mother’s only one, it’s enough.” Vernon warbles over plodding guitar strums as another guitar is picked at, worming its way into your ear, probably meant to represent the nibbling insecurity one feels during and after a relationship.
‘Lump Sum’ opens with a male chorus, giving the song a religious majesty, before relegating them to the background and returning to a the more typical indie folk found on the rest of the album.
The first single from the album, ‘Skinny Love’ injects a bit more energy into this remote cabin hibernation. Vernon vents his frustrations in the chrous, “And I told you to be patient, and I told you to be fine,” before going back on his words and pleading for the relationship to work in the verse. It’s a great folky foot tapper.
Probably one of the strongest tracks on the album, ‘For Emma’, brings in a wistful, Mazzy Star-esque slide guitar and adds further layers to the sound with the inclusion of horns. Like pretty much every other song on this album, it’s mildly depressing, in a nice way, but it also swells to a fantastic conclusion, with thick layers of instrumentation.
If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, or feel like wallowing in someone else’s misery then really have a listen to this album, but it’s also warmer than it appears on the surface. Vernon evokes feelings that everyone can relate to and it’s comforting to know that you’ll probably never feel as sad as this man, hibernating in his cabin.