Everyone loves a back story and the one behind Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago seems to have driven a lot of the critical praise for the album. Real quick: Justin Vernon lived in North Carolina but when he broke up with his girlfriend, he decided to also break up his band and move back to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. It was there that he spent a winter in a freezing cabin, adopting the name Bon Iver (French for “good winter”) and unintentionally writing the songs that would make him an overnight darling. The tastemakers and music blogs loved the thing long before it was even released, of course, and that led to tons of buzz, which in turn led to Letterman appearances, ABC News specials and Town Hall-headlining shows.
The thing is, Vernon deserved it. For Emma is a mini-classic in my mind, an album with real depth and soul, and something that seems to be timeless and of one particular time and place (in a freezing cabin in Wisconsin, after breaking up with a girlfriend in North Carolina). Whether the back story matters of not is hardly the point. The songs stand on their own – the mix of folk and gospel is perfect and Vernon’s falsetto carries the day throughout. All nine songs are great in their own way, but this one seemed like the most obvious pick.