As an album touted as one of the all-time great breakup albums, you have to be prepared for it to grab you by the heart from the first strum of a glum guitar. That’s where For Emma, Forever Ago takes off, and it never lets go.
The grip tightens its hardest on the undeniable standout track, Skinny Love. The rhythmic off-beat strumming of the guitar paired with the basic yet complex percussion never fails to have you tapping your feet and singing along. Soon enough though, your falsetto will crack into a wailing cry when you become painfully aware of the lyrics. It’s like this song, and every other one on the album, was written for your last breakup.
How else is an album to pan out borne of the most sombre circumstances? Bon Iver founder Justin Vernon had just dealt with the breakup of his previous band and the end of his relationship with ‘Emma’ amidst a bout of glandular fever. From there it was never going to be a bon hiver (French for “good winter”), so Justin retreated to his native Wisconsin and holed up in a cabin. But rather than wallow in his sorrows, he put pen to paper and fingers to strings and opened up his sad soul.
What evolved from this isolated catharsis was a melancholy masterpiece of indie folk that took the music world by surprise. The album is saturated in the atmosphere and character of the secluded cabin; you can almost hear the creaks and snowy winds, contributing to the depressed tone of the nine track heartache. Given its inherently raw recording qualities, the album was originally intended as a bunch of demos to send out to labels. However, after favourable feedback, Vernon decided to layer on a few more instruments before releasing it himself in July 2007.
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The acclaim snowballed, leading Bon Iver to sign with Jagjaguwar who gave it a wider, official release in February 2008. Things only escalated from there, with bits of the album used extensively on TV shows, collaborations with the likes of St Vincent, James Blake and Kanye, all leading to a second full length album and two Grammy wins. That’s not where the Bon Iver story ends, but its beginnings are unforgettable; an album so rich in emotion and heart that it connects with your own.