A Year in Records #2: Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Feature by Ally Brown | 09 Dec 2008

Music doesn’t exist in isolation from real human life. You might be able to separate the art from the artist to enjoy music made by bad people, but a musician’s background or personality is always capable of influencing a listener’s take. This is where backstories come in, precious narratives for journalists looking to meet word quotas, and for artists wishing to create an image or a legend. Robert Johnson’s crossroads deal with the devil meant something; 50 Cent’s nine bullet wounds meant something; and Justin Vernon’s self-imposed three month isolation in a cabin in Wisconsin woods means an awful lot when you hear the results on For Emma, Forever Ago.

We all feel like getting away for a while when things get tough, to find the peace and space to be honest with ourselves, and to start again. That story really struck a chord with those who heard Vernon’s cry but could not interpret the words. Vernon found his true voice in a falsetto stripped of all pretence and presented as bare as could be. The end product was a love letter to Emma - whoever she is - stark in its intimacy and honesty, but just mysterious enough to bear public consumption too. Put the pieces together and it‘s simple, but profound: from the hurt and confusion came anger, regret, acceptance, and fresh resolve, three months of reflection distilled into 37 minutes. For Emma, Forever Ago revealed just enough to get us interested, while leaving plenty of space to dream the in-betweens. [Ally Brown]