Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A good winter - Bon Iver

“Bon Iver”, I have learned, is actually a misspelling of the French phrase for “good winter” (which, according to my Google translator should in fact be “bon hiver”). But it still sounds good, and so it became the assumed name for Justin Vernon and, at the same time, an incredibly apt name for him to use on this, his first album – For Emma, Forever Ago.

The songs on this album were all recorded by Justin Vernon while he shut himself away in his father’s hut, in the middle of the Wisconsin countryside, in the middle of the Wisconsin winter. There he wrote, sang, played, mixed and recorded nine songs that are steeped in the solitude, the sadness and, ultimately, the solace that you can imagine finding in long lonely months in a warm hut in the midst of the snow.

Vernon’s voice is infinitely tender, infinitely intimate – mostly in a high falsetto, but supported by over-dubbed harmonies with himself, sung with such delicacy, and with each note placed with such loving care, that it creates its own inner warmth, so that, even with songs as full of heartache and sadness as these are, you can almost see, and feel, the bright glow of the fireplace at your side, providing its own special, intimate comfort and company.

Each of these songs tells its own story of loss, of loneliness, taking us through all the many tinges and tints of a bruised heart but, in the long run, finding resolution and rest. It’s all done with the barest of elements – an acoustic guitar, some unobtrusive beats here and there, a few electric guitar phrases, and those wonderful soft, sensuous, sad harmonies. But each song envelops you, embraces you. And you feel that it's almost a sacred privilege to be there, listening to these simple, unadorned, but unspeakably beautiful love stories. These are sad songs, but they are songs sung in a place that is safe and beautiful, and deeply healing. And all of this comes to you by the simple power of the music.

We feel the longing for home of “Flume”, we ache with the hurt anger of “Skinny Love”, we weep quietly to the loneliness and vulnerability of “Blindsided”, we share the regret and recriminations of “Creature Fear”; we smile sadly at the nostalgic mix of love and loss of “For Emma”; but ultimately we find a kind of peace, even in the inexplicability of it all, in “re: stacks” and its final lines of acceptance, “your love will be safe with me”.

Winters, especially winters of the heart, can be cold and harsh – but For Emma, Forever Ago gives us, through the sheer beauty of its music, a warm place to shelter. And so we learn that a cold winter, a lonely winter, can still be a bon hiver.

No comments:

Post a Comment