AOTY 2023
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Jun 3, 2020
Isolation. At times it seems like the only way to get out and burn away your issues. When you’re alone, the only consultant is yourself. Depending on the context, that can be good or bad. It really depends on whether you’re in pain cause of yourself, or in pain because of what others brought upon you.

For Justin Vernon in the late 2000’s, it was just everything you could imagine going wrong. His band breaking up, his relationship with a partner breaking up, and his body fighting illness after illness. In many ways, I’d have to say it seems like everything in Vernon’s life was truly failing him. Not so much you can do when you keep losing every battle, and like many rough patches that life puts people through, this tumultuous time in his life made him question if his passion was going to survive. When things bubble up so much, and you just can’t get over the pain that everything is building up to, I think running away is the only reasonable thing to do. If sticking around and...trying to make things work ISN’T working, then it’s time to find somewhere else to think things over.

I’m not saying that Justin is a saint by any means for putting up with as much as he was, nor am I going to say escapism is the answer to everything when life gets tough. It’s just important to remember that when everything you’re doing is going wrong then there’s no real way to achieve individualism unless you learn to sit alone first. Anger, pain, and sadness can only be bottled until you need a centre of catharsis. Which is why I feel a huge amount of empathy for Justin retreating back home into isolation.

By sitting alone, he learned to be alone with his problems and hurdle over all of the pain he once described to be impossible to get over. All of that is so evident in this album. Every time I listen to it from front to back I just continuously get goosebumps from hearing his voice, caught up in the melancholic mood that surrounds the entire album. There’s such a distinct element about the album that truly feels like every song is Vernon drowning a separate demon. Brushing away his fears that were holding him down from getting over things that were making life so difficult for him. In an older interview he described the album to just be “about him” and “about going through that, and trying to excavate it [his issues], dig it out and see what it is and burn it away. It was incredible because, it really did go away.”

In contrast to how sad the record sounds, it’s amazing to hear just how triumphant he came out after it’s release. In a way, I hate to project my insecurities on this album because it’s so clearly his. However, like any album, you can’t help but attach little bits and pieces of yourself to them. With FEFA, I have to say it sits quite comfortably in the tender sores of my psyche lately.

I’m not sure why, but lately I’ve been really stuck in a whirlwind of emotions as I truly feel as lonely as I’ve ever been. Not just in quarantine, but with my high school year being snipped short and my online presence being held back by me being too shy for the life of me...I really can’t seem to find my crowd. Since this has been happening, the term “Isolation” has come across my mind more than a few times. I really just wanna run away, but what would that do if all of my issues are stemming from myself. I’m sort of stuck trying to wrestle with my mind daily. I go on my treadmill and ponder my relationships, I listen to music and do the same, and I watch youtube and do the same. Days have become a sort of rinse & repeat cycle of constantly brooding over the sickening frustration of not being able to to people and be confident in my ability to take care of myself. I just get that childish urge to run away and hide, and hope that someone comes looking for me. It’s elementary, but, sometimes it’s all my mind can come up with. All of it adds up to the idea that I’m almost wanting to accept that I’m just supposed to be alone. It feels like, deep down in the cold and barren sound of this album, I see myself just stuck. Rocking back and forth, teary-eyed and a hand over my mouth, forever quiet as I watch every person I know both online and in real life, melt away. Deep down in the soft, falsetto vocals that sort of glide over each track, I just hear people talking behind a closed door that I’ll never open. In the end of every listen of this album, I realize I’m alone.

So, in a way, I sort of envy Justin in the long run. He had a spot he could retreat to and truly gather his senses and relinquish the inner struggles he was dealing with in a way that he was familiar with. Plus, he did it in a way that was so emotionally potent and beautiful. I have so much respect for it. He’s come to be a well-respected figure in a field he had an undying passion for. He won, and it all started by gaining strength in being alone. Isolation. Justin bested the pain that was brought upon him, and even though this album reminds me of my insecurities, it also reminds me that maybe, just MAYBE there is always going to be that chance to reconcile with that feeling of loneliness. Maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to find strength in drowning my issues the same way Justin did. With that in mind, I find a huge amount of clarity in FEFA. Showing that finding yourself and burning away the pain you feel is possible in almost any setting, I just need to find my own way.

To break down more of the technical elements of the album, it’s amazing just how peaceful and relaxing the album is in the perfect times. Re: Stacks being one of the most stunning folk tracks I’ve ever heard with it’s plucky guitars coalescing over each other, making it one of my favourite outros ever. It’s also the most compelling vocal performance across the album in my opinion, where Vernon cuts away from his peak falsetto sound and reaches deeper into his range. I just love how all over the place this album is in its intense or compelling moments to its most somber, all while using minimum instrumentation. It really drives home that simplistic, warm, and comforting vibe that develops all the way up until it’s closer.

Just, thank god this album exists. It’s such a warm and comforting embrace.

- Favourite Tracks -

* Flume
* Lump Sum
* Skinny Love
* Blindsided
* The Wolves (Act I and II)

Wonderful review, bravo!
thanks for the kind words <3 feels nice to be writing again
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