It is difficult to approach an album with a reputation for being one of those critically acclaimed by the press and yet totally unexpected back in the day. One of my rules is to avoid as much as possible reading before I do my listening on a particular album, but Bon Iver is one of those few exceptions where inevitably I stumbled upon rave reviews about it.
And truth to be told, this album is as bare-bones as you can get, and while I love that isolated, almost distant evoking sensation mixed with a genuine indie / folk sound that you might have heard before, trust me, this is the real deal, it’s not an expensive recording made in a fancy studio trying to emulate it, this is as authentic as you will ever get from indie recordings. For those who like to do some background checking on their music, the recording process for this album is an interesting reading.
Recording process and genres aside though, it is very easy to listen two or three songs and then convince yourself that the entire album will be basically the same exercise repeated over and over. Let me tell you, the songs might sound very much alike, but if that’s your impression of this album, you got it wrong. As I said earlier, the album might be made of the same basic premises, but there’s a great deal of personal immersion to happen here before you start to notice how your own mental images, evoked landscapes and situations merge in a very subtle way with the music. The day that happens, you can be sure that you will always be coming back from time to time to revisit those borrowed memories.
I have to warn new listeners though, For Emma, Forever Ago is not the kind of album that you can pick up and get into at any given time, as I believe it fits very specific moods. In my particular case, it is a must when I’m looking for some peaceful moments, looking for something unobtrusive enough but with enough texture as to don’t slip past my subconscious.
It’s been a long time since I gave a hint about highlights within an album, because I phased that out in favor of personal discovery within the music, but in this case I thought it was worth mentioning the most rewarding moments happen in a succession starting with the touching and yet fragile The Wolves (Act I and II), followed by the incredibly agonizing (lyrically speaking) Blindisded. Since I got the version without bonus tracks, my album ends with Re: Stacks, which in my opinion wraps up the experience rather nicely, although I might be missing something… Who knows, I’m perfectly satisfied with that ending.
If it is a matter of confession, I have to say that I doubted that this album would live up to the reputation it has. I was almost certain that it wouldn’t be more than a lukewarm effort hyped to dizzying heights by reviewers avid to show the world of an otherwise unremarkable indie artist. But Bon Iver proved me wrong, there’s enough substance to those claims, and now I’m one of those reviewers praising For Emma, Forever Ago.
This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization…
It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away,
Your love will be safe with me.