Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Spring! The sun’s coming out, the foxes are frolicking in our garden and the album of the year so far just keeps on getter better and better. Bon Iver (as in French for 'good winter') is Mr Justin Vernon and the album is For Emma, Forever Ago. I tracked it down based on a recommendation from the Guardian’s Laura Barton, who’s quietly become their best music writer. In her rapturous piece, she’d said her usual listening habits had been disrupted by For Emma, which she was more or less compelled to listen to on a continuous loop. I now know how she feels.

The story goes that Vernon retreated to a cabin in rural Minnesota to get over a pretty disastrous relationship. Living only on beer and deer meat, he wrote and recorded the album in just a couple of months. Yet there's far more to For Emma than just backwoods verite. True, there are squeaking frets, sharp intakes of breath and the ambient sounds of rural America twittering away in the background.

But the music itself is something else, uncharted territory. There's something of Elliott Smith, of Neil Young perhaps, The Band - even Prince on The Wolves Act One (and check out those tiny moments of auto-tune!). But there are ghosts milling in these songs; something sacred. The wind in the wires, the strange drones, the wide spectrum of Vernon's chorus of angelic voices (it’s often impossible to tell which is supposed to be the lead voice). It's secular church music. The lyrics tumble across odd time signatures: “Gloomy feathers on the flume”. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds lovely.

Along with Ane Brun's Changing of the Seasons, this is my album of the year; everyone else is going to have to go some if they want to improve on this startling, haunted debut.

1 comment:

Barrington said...

Went to see these chaps (well, he kept saying about how they were a band) at the back room in Paradiso last night.

The ablum's been in me "To Listen To" pile for a while, but thought it might be cool to see the gig before listening to it. An envangelical friend managed to get 7 of us who hadn't yet listened to BI to go, and every last one of uz was converted. Sublime.