Into The Wild: For Emma Forever Ago

March 29, 2010

I wrote this article last week in Arts Journalism. It’s about an old album, especially in Internet years, but it means a lot to me, and I’m happy the way the article turned out.

Into The Wild: For Emma Forever Ago

When Justin Vernon went deep into the woods for three winter months of solitude, he hoped to rid himself of a host of ailments, both emotional and physical. What the North Carolina native didn’t realize is that this respite would help to produce one of 2008’s most beloved albums: For Emma, Forever Ago.
A deeply personal piece of art, Emma, released under the moniker Bon Iver, is adorned with intriguingly vague language. Coupled with his bare-bones production values, this creates a sweet breath of smog in an age of crisp auto-tuning and hush-hush ghostwriting. Almost entirely self-produced in his father’s northern Wisconsin cabin, the album is a delicate swirl of layers. Vernon creates a cave of highly relatable emotion, urging the listener to ask, as he does in “The Wolves (Act I and II)”, “what might have been lost?”

Vernon recognizes the beauty in imperfection, often detuning his instruments by cents, or fractions of a note. On cuts like “Skinny Love,” the clash of his beautifully tame falsetto and gravelly, sharp wail helps establish the emotional range that makes his creative expressions believable. Instead of rehashing the same old “guy with a guitar” gimmick throughout Emma, Vernon creates a varying, fluid series of nine songs that speak of confusion, rejection, and the deepest pain, heartbreak. There are certainly elements of insanity and nakedness, but it is that relentless audacity which frees Emma from the genre’s all too typical inauthenticity.

Every once in a while, an album comes along with an intriguing story. Vernon has ridden that story of solitude to the top, but when the time came to analyze the musician behind the myth, he stood strong. His songs are better than a story; they testify to the musical release of the all-too-relatable, deep emotions that thrust him into the wilderness. Here’s to another trip.

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