I am retorning again to this album because everytime I listen it I become more and more perplexed. It´s amazing!
On For Emma, Forever Ago, it is utterly amazing how Justin Vernon has done so much with so little. Like the aforementioned Kristian Matsson, he has crafted an album of pure splendor by using little more than his voice, an acoustic guitar, and some damn strong lyrics to accompany them. The album’s story is an old one by now: Vernon secluded himself in Wisconsin to a deserted cabin, placing himself in socially desolate circumstances for the eventual craftwork of For Emma, Forever Ago. I suppose you can see the parallel to Thoreau’s Cabin at Walden Pond, another artist of sorts who used social desolation to write his most renowned work, Walden. That For Emma, Forever Ago is Vernon’s solo debut makes it unpredictable as to whether it will be considered his definitive opus, but it certainly would not be an insult if it were to be. After all, the album has already been called a modern classic for several reasons, one of which relates to Vernon’s ability to relay such strong emotional commitments while using little to no technological edge. Listening to this album, it is apparent that it could have been written either in the early 20th century or the 21st century, already giving it that “timeless” tag that folk releases often strive for and then fall short of because of either restrictive tendencies or technologically expansive techniques. While the production of For Emma, Forever Ago is superb with its use of overlapping vocal harmonies and different guitar tones, it is the overall songwriting and vocal usage that stands out more than anything.
As far as Vernon’s vocals go, he possesses a range that any striving vocalist would envy. They are both soothing and warmly reverberating, allowing his slight falsetto to emerge without becoming too straining or overwhelming. This can be best seen on a track like “Skinny Love”, where even the opening moments prove indicative of his expansive vocal arsenal. When he chants “my, my, my” during the first verse, I can’t help but envision Vernon having some sort of soul influence. When he says, “Come on skinny love,” it sounds as if he is biting his teeth down in frustration, maintaining his utmost coherence in the process. When the highly ardent chorus enters, one can’t help but be impressed by Vernon’s melodic diversity as well. His soulful croon makes a slight transition to a bluesier demeanor as he concludes with a few free-spirited howls. “Lump Sum”, while more melodically linear than “Skinny Love”, packs a heavy emotional punch that can be attributed to both the spine-tingling touch of reverb in Vernon’s quivering vocals and his lyrical output. “Fit it all, fit it in the doldrums… or so the story goes,” he sings over a lightly strummed acoustical progression, alluding to a reluctance of looking toward the future rather than a current state of stringing onto the past and present. Like “Lump Sum”, his topics are often highly relatable in their tone and delivery, contributing to the impeccable craftsmanship of a folk release that already has “classic” written all over it.