By Chris Gambon
It’s been more than three years since Justin Vernon released the lo-fi folk masterpiece, For Emma, Forever Ago, under the then unheard-of moniker Bon Iver. So in a late March interview with Rolling Stone, Vernon announced a new Bon Iver album was due in June and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Following the release of an untitled instrumental via the Bon Iver website, Vernon announced tour dates for the band spanning July and August.
It seems not that long ago that Vernon announced his project would enter indefinite hibernation while he worked on his side project, Gangys, and collaborated with Kanye West. It seemed as if any sort of new Bon Iver material was a long way off and fans had no choice but to wait patiently, savoring the one LP and EP comprising the project’s catalogue.
When news began to surface that Vernon was making new moves with Bon Iver, it was as if Christmas came early. Surely the folk virtuoso wasn’t ready for another magnum opus. It was too soon. The project had only been dormant for a few years.
This feeling, while perhaps unexpected as any new material from Vernon is welcomed with open arms, is justified. For Emma, Forever Ago is the kind of album that only comes around every once and a while.
The (no pun intended) folklore surrounding Vernon’s first album under the name Bon Iver has become inseparable from the musical content of the record.
Spurred by the break up with of his first band and girlfriend, Vernon moved to a family cabin in Wisconsin to recuperate with no intention of writing or recording music. Three months later, For Emma, Forever Ago came into existence.
Recorded mostly on an acoustic guitar, with all additional overdubs done by Vernon, For Emma, Forever Ago received high critical acclaim, propelling Vernon into the spotlight of independent music.
With only one album, a Bon Iver follow-up has been on the mind of greedy fans since Vernon’s initial offering began to gain popularity. Still, there is a sense of hesitation in the anticipation surrounding the self-titled sophomore album.
Touring his first album, Vernon recruited a band to back him, adding various new layers to the minimalist songs of For Emma, Forever Ago. This is the incarnation of Bon Iver that Vernon will on the new album. The new album won’t have the honest lo-fi feel of For Emma, Forever Ago. It will undoubtedly involve more studio work and have a higher production value.
With his first effort, Vernon also had years worth of emotional material to craft songs with. The lyrics from For Emma, Forever Ago tell the story of heartbreak, rejection, depression and recovery and are brutally honest.
Fans may expect the new album to be more similar to the Bon Iver Bloodbank EP Vernon released in 2009 but that offering only contains four songs, one of which is an auto-tuned vocal solo. This makes it difficult to gauge the direction Vernon was going in with the use of a full band in a studio.
There is little doubt that Vernon will produce something original and honest in its own way but to expect something even remotely resembling For Emma, Forever Ago would be fallacy.
When weighing expectations of Bon Iver’s next offering, it is important to consider what might have been lost in the process of recording in a foreign and augmented style.