It would be easy to dismiss the history behind the recording of For Emma, Forever Ago as mere press release hype. Yes, Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) recorded this album recovering from some deep personal disappointments in an isolated log cabin over one bitter Wisconsin winter - but what does the music sound like? I'm not really interested in whether a singer-songwriter's music can be framed as `authentic' - only in whether I find it engaging or not. Luckily, For Emma, Forever Ago is every bit as atmospheric, soulful and intimate as the hype would have you believe, but not nearly as bleak as you might expect.
For all it's sparse acoustics - the album was carefully layered by Vernon on a four-track - For Emma, Forever Ago is oddly uplifting, evoking a sense of resurrection or salvation in the beauty of musical expression. Love, loss and loneliness are all lyrical threads, but this is not a dispiriting listen. Some lo-fi sonic embellishment gives Vernon's raw folk a sense space and depth. These subtle, icy electronics - which remind me in texture of some of Godspeed's ambient passages - levitate this beyond conventional singer-songwriter territory. Moreover, the vocals - a soulful falsetto that recalls Lambchop's Kurt Wagner or My Morning Jacket's Jim James - are multi-tracked, giving a sense of ghosly communion rather than isolation. Particularly on the opening two tracks, Vernon's experimentation with layered harmonies acquires a celestial ambience. A wintery beauty, for fans of Micah P Hinson and the Gospel of Progress, Iron & Wine, Lambchop and My Morning Jacket.