Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
'Little House on the Prairie', 'Grizzly' Adams, The Blair Witch, Davy Crockett, Sasquatch, 'The Legend Of Boggy Creek' and hillbillies getting 'medieval' on a squealing Ned Beatty. The American wilderness has always been a great source of inspiration for the imagination. Now Bon Iver's debut 'For Emma, Forever Ago' aims to bring us back the bloody broken heart of the american mountains. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
The story goes that Bon, aka Justin Vernon, after a relationship break-up, took off alone to his dad's hunting cabin in the deep woods of Wisconsin armed only with a shotgun and a six-pack of beans. One cold, dark, winter later he returns to the big city, classy new album under his wing.
Whilst muso weird-beard types in music normally have me running to the hills, I'm a sucker for a bit of rock'n'roll mythology and Vernon's tale intrigued me. In a time when dubious chancers like The Wombats, Fratellis and Kooks are all I hear on the radio, you gotta pack up, move out and follow the trail of the lonesome pine.
The album does convincingly reflect the idea of God's lonely man. There are no '80's synths or ten minute guitar solos here, just the crows, wolves, horses, snow and the moon. Plenty of cheery american gothic and broken hearts too, all very Emily Dickinson.
Lyrically and musically, the record covers similar territory to Eddie Vedder's fantastic solo debut from last year - the 'Into The Wild' soundtrack - but with a folkier, warmer, 'campfire' heart.
The voice itself is a hybrid of Prince and Antony Hegarty, a disembodied haunted falsetto on the dial midway between Melancholia Avenue and Euphoria Drive.
Without sounding like a cliché (but,alas, I will) it does play as a proper 'journey record' - from the evening sun, through the dark night, to the first light of morning. Luckily, it does this in about 40 minutes rather than the standard 8 hours.
It's often uplifting and optimistic, such as on 'Lump Sum' - which would've been welcomed like family on Radiohead's 'In Rainbows' - or the 'radio single' 'Skinny Love'. The rolling tin drums at the climax of 'The Wolves' sound like fireworks and its one of the albums great inspirational moments.
Mostly though it keeps to the lost highway, hitching a ride with the ghosts of Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie or the Kurt Cobain of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?'. It's not overtly self indulgent or maudlin though with the record closing on a note of redemption and clarity, 'this is not the sound of a new man or crispy realisation, it's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away'.
Over the past few years it has become de rigueur to ape Springsteen and the hungry heart of the lost american dream, but this is definitely more 'Nebraska' and 'The Ghost Of Tom Joad' than 'Born To Run'. This isn't built for enormodomes, it's for bedrooms, swing porches and long road trips through the night.
Occasionally though the record does feel like it's floating past you and there are moments when you want to give the guy a good slap and take him to 'Hooters'. But for the most part you'll be more likely to buy the girl who broke his heart a drink. This is not a party record and certainly not the kind of record you'll play every day, but it's perfect for late summer evenings and could be one of those comfort records you'll return to for some time to come.
So people of pop, fear the beard no more. I'm off to don a plaid shirt, grow said 'facefur' and eat some undercooked meat. Well OK, maybe some Quorn.