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Bon Iver

For Emma, Forever Ago (Jagjaguwar)

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Bon Iver (from the French for "good winter") is Justin Vernon, one of many prolific, bearded songwriters hailing from the backwoods, but his elegant, understated melodies are decidedly more than the mere strumming of major chords and the stringing together of precious lyrics.

Perhaps it was the way he executed writing the album (isolated in a Wisconsin cabin for much of a whole winter, Emerson-style), or maybe it's his haunting falsetto, reminiscent of TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe but delivered with heartbreaking conviction.

Whatever the case, For Emma, Forever Ago (re-released by Jagjaguwar this month) is absolutely stunning. It’s a commitment to listen to and embrace a folk album that has no real “uppers,” that isn’t perhaps revolutionary, but Bon Iver is more than just cold, dark songs about love. Vernon’s vocal harmonies are perfect, building to staggering crescendos and becoming an instrument unto themselves. Standout track "Skinny Love" laments the death of a sickly relationship, while the gorgeous hymn “Flume” is lyrically elusive, but composed with affecting intensity.

A collection of ballads rendered with both raw emotional outpouring and intuitive restraint, For Emma, Forever Ago is an album that is intrinsically cathartic; it’s impossible not to surrender to nostalgia while listening.

Bon Iver will perform with Phosphorescent at White Hinterland March 26 at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle.


Molly Hamilton is the local music director at KUPS 90.1FM The Sound.

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