Bon Iver is a Grammy Award-winning folk band from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The band was founded by Justin Vernon in 2007. Of course the joke is that they won their Grammy for “best new band” in 2012, in recognition of their second album. Today’s song is from the first album. In my opinion, For Emma, Forever Ago is much better than Bon Iver, Bon Iver.
Although Justin Vernon rose to national and international prominence with the spectacular 2008 debut album, a lot of folks around my neck of the woods sort of already knew him. He was in a freak-folk band called DeYarmond Edison who moved from Eau Claire to Raleigh, North Carolina. That band enjoyed a little bit of success here before splitting in 2006. Vernon went back to Wisconsin to found Bon Iver while the rest of that band (Brad Cook, Phil Cook, Joe Westerlund) stayed in Raleigh to found the folk band Megafaun, who are practically the poster children for the Hopscotch Music Festival. Their set at the inaugural festival in 2010 is the stuff of legends, and they headlined the free “day party” on Saturday afternoon at this year’s festival.
Although most people consider Bon Iver to be synonymous with Justin Vernon, there are a lot of people in the band. Sean “S. Carey” Carey, Matthew McCaughan, and Michael Noyce are the primary members, but the complete roster includes a handful of others including the saxophone magician Colin Stetson.
It’s pretty remarkable that after Vernon isolated himself in a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin to write For Emma…, everyone started doing the same thing. Not that he was the first one ever to do such a thing, but it’s so much more of a “thing” now, and people will say that they draw their inspiration from Vernon. And he might say that he drew his “cabin in the woods” inspiration from Bob Mould, who locked himself in cabin in the woods of Minnesota to write Workbook, and he’ll say that he drew his inspiration from hundreds of novelists. And so on.
I first found out about Bon Iver a few months after For Emma… came out. It was through a former coworker who exposed me to a bunch of “new” stuff during a time when I wasn’t really listening to very much new stuff. Over the many years that we worked together, we introduced each other to a lot of different bands, and this is one of my favorite things that he introduced me to. Of course I eventually would have found Bon Iver, anyway, but that’s beside the point. He was kind of in disbelief when I said that I didn’t know anything about Bon Iver, so he burned me For Emma… and I loved it immediately. That album lived in my car’s CD player for a long time, and it was in very heavy rotation in my digital catalog at home. Through it all, tonight’s song was my favorite.
“re: Stacks” by Bon Iver
The guitar is very reminiscent of something that Mark Kozelek might play, and that might by why I’m so drawn to this particular song. I’m reminded, specifically of the Red House Painters song “Have You Forgotten”. Today’s song, like a lot of the songs on For Emma…, is about depression and loss and all that. That’s the reason that he went to the cabin. To deal with that and to write some new songs.
There’s some pretty strange and confusing imagery in the song. References to poker, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and this:
There’s a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed
And he’s dangling my keys. He even fakes a toss
Whatever could it be
That has brought me to this loss?
It’s about losing more than car keys, and it’s about more than the humiliation of being taunted by a clever bird.
Still, though, at the end, there’s hope:
This is not the sound of a new man or a crispy realization
It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away
Your love will be safe with me
For about a year or so, Vernon has been dating the outstanding Canadian indie-folk/alt-country singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards. I’m a big fan of this. After she left her husband, she worked closely with Vernon on her 2012 album Voyageur, which was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. They soon became a couple, and I really hope that they make a bunch of records together.
Get For Emma, Forever Ago from the Jagjaguwar Records web store here. As long as you’re in the Jagjaguwar store, you might as well also order the deluxe version of Sharon Van Etten‘s Tramp, which is one of my favorite albums of the year. Details on the reissue/reissue/repackage here.