Bon Iver's daring debut
For Emma, Forever Ago
Release Date: TBA
So this is the phoenix which has risen from the ashes of DeYarmond Edison's demise. Emma, Forever Ago plays as though it was excavated from the depths of front man Justin Vernon's emotional quarry. Although initially it was not intended for release, each song is as painstakingly crafted as the next. The raw, experimental approach (lo-fi percussion and clap-along resolves) to conventional bluegrass infused folk rock (jangly banjo and fiery acoustic progressions) is what makes these songs so groundbreaking. Bon Iver is raising the bar, slowly blurring the line drawn between experimental and conventional means of expression.
The album opener "Flume" spooks me. Reverberated acoustic guitar strings, ghostly arrangements and harmonics punctuate the melodious, hymn-like tune. There's a certain meditative presence imbued throughout the song that influences me to reexamine. Venon's full-bodied harmonies oscillate in a seiche-like manner over the seemingly minimal folk rock. Don't be fooled though. The vocal nuances, meticulously layered harmonies and the overall depth of melody is what is so unprecedented. The experimental, avant-garde facets provide a phantasmal, almost Grizzly Bear-esque ambience that is integral to this album.
Bon Iver - "Skinny Love"
"Skinny Love" is the most impassioned piece on the album. It is also, arguably, the most beautiful song I've heard this entire year. On "Skinny Love", a fatigued Vernon belts with towering rage: "And I'm breaking at the britches and at the end of all your lines". Through this belting Vernon universalizes his relationship-related woes. The overwhelming builds arrive at a pivotal falsetto interlude, which ends in earnest resolve. There hasn't been anything this heartfelt and genuine thus far in the year of music.
There are moments on Emma, Forever Ago where I swear Justin Vernon is TV on the Radio front man Kyp Malone. Songs like "Lump Sum", "For Emma", "Creature Fear", and "The Wolves (Act I And II)" should come packaged with small print: **Pretty much Kyp Malone**. There's an awful lot about Vernon's soulful, resolute vocal melodies that can be related. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly believe that Vernon's propensity to sound so different than he actually looks is evidence of a deep-rooted experimentalism. He's willing to put it all out there regardless of what you'll think and the results are astonishing.
Emma, Forever Ago is, without a doubt, the most barefaced, poignant exercise that I've heard all year. Bon Iver has masked their intricately designed songs with simplicity and that, in itself, is brilliant. Vernon's voice draws you near and compels you to empathize. You have no choice, but to listen to the man's quandaries. Unless, of course, you're completely impassible.
Stream the album it's entirety here.