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Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago
February 19, 2008
Skinny Love

A beautiful fever dream of love songs and melancholy recorded in the white-out Winter of Wisconsin, Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, is a lingering love note of perfectly lilting instrumental phrases and heat-damaged, soul-bearing song writing.

Justin Vernon penned and recorded the album after his band Eau Claire, WI band, DeYarmond Edison, disintegrated and all the solo acoustic guitar work and multi-layered vocal recordings sound like a single mind splintering into a fully conscious and differentiated musical group. There’s nothing quite like a person harmonizing with themselves for nearly forty minutes to establish a sturdy foundation of isolation and abandonment. Each track begins unsure of itself, like the antisocial new kid edging his way deeper and deeper into the party until all inhibitions are abandoned.

Album opener, “Flume” is a beautiful, sad little slice of a song: all buzzing guitar strings attempting to find their balance and a whispery, jumbled poetic lyrics lamenting rope burns and lake swimming. “Lump Sum” chugs along in linear bursts of lullaby guitar strums, leading nicely into the first side’s standout track, “Skinny Love.” The song collects miniscule memories, like the haunting image of our narrator “staring at the sink of blood and crushed veneer.” The soulful, regretful vocals paired with bare-bones percussion muted to the point of barely registering (almost like slight pressure pops in your eardrums), plays like TV on the Radio channeling Reel to Real-era Arthur Lee.

The albums latter half tends to dramatically veer off into a-rhythmic, cathartic breakdowns. “The Wolves (Act I and II)” culminates in a spiraling horn blast-off, while “Team” is basically the ruefully electric continuation of the enigmatic track “Creature Fear” eventually burning itself out over rusty snares, dwindling tremolo arpeggios and out of breath whistles. By the time Vernon’s mush-mouthed and melding the words “for Emma” and “forever” into one divine monosyllable, it’s hard not to get caught up in his streaming pure emotional downpour.

Bon Iver delivers mopiness with an underlying wellspring of hope and the analogue warmth with which Vernon’s prepared every track and turned every abstract phrasing inside-out will have listeners hooked from the first tentative note.

Favorite Track: “Creature Fear”

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Christopher j Ewing is a writer and filmmaker living in San Francisco with a girl and a designer dog (Chihuahua vs. dachshund). He is in a band by himself and has a myspace account ( and a production company ( for freelance film and crit/journo work.

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