Sit down. Open up that drawer to your left that you’ve been keeping those headphones in. No, not the earbuds that came with that music player thingy with the touch screen or the phone that does so many things that it only has more things that can go wrong with it. The headphones. Cover yourself. You’re going to want to immerse yourself in this one, friends.
So you finally picked up the Bon Iver album from that indie shop that NPR has been raving about, and your little brother has hasn’t been able to shut up about it since he discovered it two years ago. It’s about time. You hold it in your hands, you say the name out loud, For Emma, Forever Ago. And you hum a little Simon & Garfunkle, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her but this isn’t your papa’s singer-songwriter. This isn’t your grandfather’s acoustic guitar.
Turn the lights off. Put those headphones on. Give the disc a spin.
So what’s there to know about this band? Bon Iver. It’s a nice one to roll off the tongue with. It’s pronounced “Bon Eever.” It plays off the French “bon hiver” or “good winter” in English. It’s a project of Justin Vernon. His name should be synonymous with project. Vernon was born April 30th, 1981 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He lived in Wisconsin for most of his life until taking off for Raleigh, North Carolina after he finished his college education.
In the middle of the last decade, Vernon divided from most of his realities. He moved himself back to his home state of Wisconsin to live in a cabin in the woods for a while. I can imagine us all wanting to do this at some time. You get your heart broken, and you shut everyone off. Pack it up, become a hermit for a while. No different with Vernon. His heart busted and bruised from a bad few years out of college, a break up with a girlfriend, and a break up with his college band mates of DeYarmond Edison and he takes off for the hills.
Vernon named his act after spending a month or two lying in bed with mono and watching reruns of Northern Exposure. You see, the cast comes out in five feet of snow one episode to wish each other “bon hiver”. Vernon looked up the phrase, split the letter H off, and began using it as a moniker. There you have it. The birth of a beautiful beast.
In the months to come in that cabin in the woods, Vernon would write and record tracks for Bon Iver’s debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago. It is no surprise that most of the tracks are about his former love, but these are no mediocre forgone love songs. They’re going to haunt you. Vernon’s got a way, no doubt about it, for sucking you in and making you feel his music.
His lyrics aren’t always linear. His voice is more often than not a cracking falsetto. But his guitars are catchy, and his tracks are layered so deep that you just might drown in all the sound. One listen and you’re right where he is, side by side, heart by heart.
Bon Iver performs live with Sean Carey (drums, vocals, piano), Michael Noyce (vocals, baritone guitar, guitar) and Matthew McCaughan (bass, drums, vocals). The three band-mates compensate for the overdubs of Vernon’s own voice used during recordings. It’s never so much harmonies as much as it a chorus of the same notes, fattening the sound and emotion behind it all.
Definitely worth every second of every track, both existing and yet to come.
For Emma, Forever Ago (LP) (February 19, 2008 – US / May 12, 2008 – UK)
Blood Bank (EP) (January 20, 2009)
Bon Iver (LP) (June 21, 2011)
Bon Iver was also featured on the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack, pairing up with St. Vincent on the track “Roselyn”