Colin Schrein – A&E Editor
This summer, Bon Iver’s seminal album “For Emma, Forever Ago” reached its 15th year
since its initial release on July 8, 2007. Justin Vernon, Bon Iver’s mastermind and primary
songwriter, released this album after a winter retreat to his father’s old hunting cabin in rural Wisconsin. What came out of that cold isolation was a sparse, yet rich, set of songs that reflected the thoughts of a man turned inward. This is one of my favorite albums of all time. It is beautiful all the way through and touches on a wide variety of emotions ranging from sorrow and sadness to acceptance and hopefulness. The first track on “For Emma, Forever Ago” is “Flume,” a song which many find relatable and touching, but it is hard to pinpoint why. The lyrics give a deep sense of vulnerability, which is consistent throughout a lot of Vernon’s words. As he sings “I wear my garment so it shows/Now you know,” Vernon gives himself up to the listener. Starting off the album with such an authentic track allows the listener to be open to a plethora of feelings
throughout the whole LP. “Skinny Love,” perhaps Bon Iver’s most widely known song, is a true tear-jerker. Composed only with the use of an old resonator guitar, a soft kick drum and Vernon’s raw and emotive voice, this song lays the cards on the table. Vernon sings of a broken relationship and the effect that another person can have in your life. Vernon explained what the term “skinny love” means in a 2011 interview with Pitchfork: “You’re in a relationship because you need help, but that’s not necessarily why you should be in a relationship. And that’s skinny. It doesn’t have weight. Skinny love doesn’t have a chance because it’s not nourished.” Justin Vernon paints a painstaking picture with “Skinny Love.” A picture of love gone astray from what it hoped to be. One cannot help but feel touched in some way by this track, as not many artists delve into such an exposed view on relationships. There are love songs and then there is “Skinny Love.” Endcapping “For Emma, Forever Ago” is “Re: Stacks,” which closes the album on a subtle and bittersweet note. This track tinges on remembrance and acceptance, as Vernon recalls times past and returns to emotional tranquility. At the tail end of such a heart-wrenching album,
“Re: Stacks” is a summation of sorrow and personal anguish. In a lofty falsetto voice Vernon sings, “Everything that happens is from now on/This is pouring rain/This is paralyzed.” Acceptance is truly what makes so much pain worth it in the end. Taking what you have experienced and learning to become at ease with it is the point that Vernon reaches by the end of the album. “For Emma, Forever Ago” has personally touched me where no other album has and it has spread its influence throughout the works of many subsequent artists and songwriters. Through its tough-love honesty and barebones construction in a cabin in the woods, this album is one that will always have a place in my heart. As we all return to campus this year, things can seem overwhelming and you might not feel like you will be alright, but this album proves that we can turn a seemingly ceaseless hurt into a blessing.
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