Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago is a folk record of rare power, hauntingly beautiful, and at times undeniably catchy. This record may establish Justin Vernon as one of the great songwriters of our generation. With that said, this album is difficult if not impossible to purchase, but a stream of it is available for free at the virb website.
In a lot of ways this record reminds me of Thoreaus's Walden. Like Walden, For Emma, Forever Ago was written in the woods alone, away from the noise of the wide world. Like Walden, this record is full of the quiet, purposeful beauty of a different age.
For Emma, Forever Ago runs over with mellow acoustic guitar strums and confident, understated lyricism which come together to create a sound which might be described as mix between Elvis Perkins, The Shins, and Simon and Garfunkel.
The first track, "Flume," is as good a beginning to an album as I've heard in some time. It begins with simple, catchy acoustic picking. Vernon's crystal clear tenor breaks in after about three bars, and he begins to sing lyrics that probably mean something. I am hesitant to offer some sort of grand pronouncement as to what he is singing about. In fact, I'm not entirely sure it matters. Some songs just work, and without any doubt "Flume" is one of those songs.
The next highlight on the album for me is "Creature Fear." The lyrics are largely unintelligible, but Vernon did something on this track that covers over a multitude of sins. He found something catchy and repeated it just the right number of times through the song. Perhaps there is some greater genius at work here, but to me, great message about life or the world aside, "Creature Fear" is delightfully mellow and listenable.
For Emma, Forever Ago is a good album. My only complaint is that the vast majority of the time I have no idea what Vernon is singing. I get the feeling that if I spin this disc a few more times I'll suddenly understand what he is saying. Somehow, not knowing doesn't bother me too much.
I would heartily recommend For Emma, Forever Ago to fans of Elvis Perkins, Damien Rice, Josh Ritter, Simon and Garfunkel and the like. I am really looking forward to more great music from Bon Iver.