Ok, so as long as you haven’t secluded yourself to a nice, comfy space underneath a rock, you’ve probably heard of a band called Bon Iver (french pronunciation). It’s really just one guy, Justin Vernon, and some people that he’s picked up along the way (former guitar student, overbearing fan, you know, the usual) but he is the most genuine artist that I have heard in a long time.
His album came out in ’09, For Emma, Forever Ago, followed by a four song EP that same year. He’s got a new one coming out this summer but the gem is For Emma. This is an album that he recorded by himself in a cabin somewhere in Northern Wisconsin while he dealt with mono, pneumonia and and a broken heart. There’s only nine songs it, but each one slowly grows on you to the point that you can’t listen to anything else. I have wept to this album.
On the opener, Flume, the sound of a jangling acoustic guitar precedes Vernon’s hauntingly beautiful falsetto and should move you or, if anything, intrigue you to want to hear more. If this doesn’t happen, I guess you can go back to listening to the Britney Spears single. If it does move you, you’re in for a treat: just when you think it’s ended, there’s another chorus refrain that makes you contemplate how it’s possible to have gone this long in life without having heard something quite as inspiring.
I was impressed after my first listen, but was hesitant to buy into this guy being the real thing before seeing or hearing him live. So I went on YouTube and found this performance of a few of his songs performed live in this tiny room with cool rugs. I was blown away by this version of the song, For Emma. The album’s version is an uplifting coda to an otherwise downtrodden collection of songs, but the live version features Vernon on piano and comes off with an almost gospel vibe to it. His face betrays so much emotion and you just know by looking at his contortions that this music means so much to him. And that’s what translates to the listener: the depths of meaning, the capturing of spiritual moments, and the expression of all of these sensations into an accessible art form.
I’ve tried to push Bon Iver onto a few friends, most of whom are weary that it’ll be just like everything else I listen to: quiet and depressing. But if you look at the faces of the people that have listened to and fallen in love with this album, you don’t see tears of pain streaming down their cheeks. To the contrary, there’s a recognition. An enlightenment. There are so many ways to perceive the sounds that escape from this man’s soul; you can dwell in their sadness and regret and let it sink you into a dark corner of your heart or you can feel it’s uplifting beauty, the hope that it breeds and the promises that it makes. Either way has its own merits, I guess it all depends on how you’re feeling that day.