Justin Vernon’s story is something out of a movie. After the break-up of his band DeYarmond Edison in 2005 and the split with his girlfriend, Vernon escaped to a hut in the woods and spent  four wintery months alone with his memories and his guitar, coming to terms with all that had happened. The result of which is the mystical and deeply moving Bon Iver debut album; For Emma, Forever Ago, released in 2008. There is that buried pain in many of us, over a heartache, that surfaces when listening to a certain song or particular artist, Justin Vernon is your song, he is your artist.

If the turmoil created within me in attempting to write this review is anything to go by, you should be able comprehend the aching nostalgia expressed throughout the album. On day one I had the album on repeat, being pulled into its glorious depths. By day three I was weeping uncontrollably in the foetal position over having had to leave my first-love. Cringe at my soppiness all you like, but before you do, I urge you to accept my challenge and try not to have every lonely and heartbroken memory pulled up from the depths of your soul as you listen to Justin Vernon’s hauntingly beautiful album.

Although almost impossible to describe, I would place Bon Iver on a similar level of acoustic minimalism and natural beauty as Iron and Wine or Bright Eyes. The simple acoustic picking in the opening track; Flume, combined with recordings of nature and Vernon’s echoing falsetto voice form a piece that sets the enchanted scene.

Unlike other deeply profound albums about love and loss, which admittedly the schmaltzier of us cannot get enough of, Vernon digs deeper and uses his voice as an additional instrument to add to the ambience of solitude and melancholy. Most often I cannot decipher what his lyrics are, and truthfully I do not mind not knowing. I will happily allow myself to be swept away in his emotional exorcism created by rhythmic guitar, light drums and percussion. Sometimes you are able to extract the puzzle piece lyrics from the harmony to discover unending depth and musing.

“And the story’s all over you. In the morning I’ll call you. Can’t you find a clue when your eyes are all painted Sinatra blue.”

His musical expression in conjunction with his own private reasoning, as seen in the above lyrics from The Wolves (Act I And II), leave us with not just another sorrowful song but rather Vernon’s own bruised and beating heart resonating within our own. Skinny Love is another such song, tugging at my heartstrings as Vernon’s aching shouts echo through me as I remember fighting for a love and losing it.

You may be questioning why anyone would want to dig up those painful emotions. The truth of it is; we all love it. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago will allow you to indulge, trans-like, in your own mournful memories whilst being cradled by the quiet beauty of Vernon’s creation. It hurts, but it is a hurt you cannot get enough of.     

By: Julia Joubert

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