Often when a artist records an album, they extract inspiration and energy from where it’s being recorded. Whether it’s John Deacon’s Another One Bites the Dust baseline or Mike Dean’s synth solo in Kanye’s Devil In A New Dress; a scene can spark one of a kind artistry. But nothing quite compares to Justin Vernon’s debut as Bon Iver; For Emma, Forever Ago.
In brief, after the break-up of his band and his relationship; Vernon stayed in his fathers hunting cabin for 3 months in complete isolation during a cold, bitter winter. During this time For Emma, Forever Ago was created. Most of the songs were written after hearing melodies, meaning each word that was chosen reflected the accompanying melody.
"I was definitely down and pretty confused," he said. "At 26, I was thinking about going back to school to be a music teacher. To me, that felt like giving up even though I was excited about that prospect. There was a lot of despair. I had anxiety and depression for longer than I kind of knew about and I didn't really understand it back then.”
"It's different, I've been through hard times since then and hard times are different each time," he said. "It makes you stronger.".. “The album isn't about winter, but it feels like that," he said. "Very achy. Kind of that isolation thing. There's something beautiful about that. When I made the record I didn't even have a name for the project.”
What resulted after this tough period for Vernon was a piece of brilliance.
The technique Justin used with his vocalisations helped reimagine the way voices can be projected on a song. Even though voice manipulation wasn’t new, auto-tune was already being over used by the late 2000s, but the way he used it to strengthen his vulnerability was nothing short of incredible. At this time we saw a similar break-through of the use of voice manipulations on Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak, notably during a similar tough period for the artist.
One of the standouts for cannonball is the resolute conclusion in the last few tracks of the album. Beginning in the climax of the album track Blindsided, there is lines starting to be drawn in the narration of the album. The winding down of looking into the future of Creature Fear. Boston Brass musicians John Dehaven and Randy Piggery arrive on For Emma to bring a end to the spell of the albums isolation. The final song on the album Re:Stacks brings complete reflection on the artists experiences.
Throughout, the albums quiet folk and hushed intimacy is worlds away from his previous works at DeYarmond Edison.
Now the album is 12 years old yet it only ages like a fine wine. Since For Emma, Bon Iver’s musical style has saw consistent change over its discography. Despite only releasing just over of 2 hours of music. it’s a testament to the effort and thought he puts into his music.
“The pressure he puts on himself to consistently reinvent Bon Iver from album to album must be nothing less than hellish, threatening to strangle his creativity and reduce him to a nervous breakdown in a friend’s arms.”
“It has also led him to produce some of the most transcendent, beautiful music of the last decade” The Stanford Daily.