Something utterly enthralling from start to finish.
Sid Smith 2008-05-08
'Getting it together' in the country has long been the prerogative of musicians. Back in the mists of time Bob Dylan did it, Traffic boogied on the lawn of their cottage and Led Zeppelin went off to Wales to get the whiff of Bron-Yr-Aur up their nostrils. It also proved to be something of a creative restorative for Justin Vernon, now trading under the name Bon Iver (a bastardised version of Bon Hiver, French for 'good winter') who retreated to a log cabin in Wisconsin after the break-up of his band, DeYarmond Edison in 2006.
Originally self-released in 2007, For Emma, Forever Ago, became a short-run sell out with the buzz spreading like wildfire. It's easy to understand why. Acoustic-based songs are presented with a subtle though austere back-to-basics ambience, with a voice moving between a John Martyn-like tight-lipped mumble through to expressive and precocious declamations that wouldn’t sound out of place on an album by Prince or Antony and the Johnsons.
Not surprisingly for music that was formed and shaped by three months in a Wisconsin landscape gripped by winter, the prevalent mood is sombre and even spiritual in places, encoded into a series of oblique lyrics that read on the page like terse poetry. Blindside talks of human contact melting the metaphorical and literal ice; the heartbeat throbbing of Lump Sum holds back judgement until things get warm; For Emma sees ''death on a sunny snow'' and the simple meditation of Re:Stacks laments love frozen in the ground.
The sensitive production is a text-book case in getting the maximum from the most minimal materials. In the reflective pauses between chorus and verse of the opening track Flume, there are tiny sparkling harmonics frostily twinkling so briefly you might miss them in amongst ghostly rattles of feedback that form the harmonic spine of the piece – just one of many hair-raising, glorious moments. The strength of this set is founded on the unflinching clarity of a musical vision that transcends styles to create something utterly enthralling from start to finish.