Bon Iver may mostly be just a dude and a guitar, but don't go thinking singer-songwriter. Justin Vernon's French-named one-man band is much more, thanks to cobwebs of hazy effects and home-recorded imperfections. That's because Bon Iver wasn't intended to be anything more than a respite from Vernon's freshly broken-up old band, DeYarmond Edison. Once this raggedly personal collection of songs was self-released, though, Bon Iver was lauded by Pitchfork and adopted by Jagjagguwar. It's easy to see why, given how affable For Emma, Forever Ago turns out to be. Even on the memorable "Skinny Love," where some of the biggest cracks form around Vernon's bashful falsetto, his throaty outburst is as tuneful as anything you'd hear playing at Starbucks. It's the production, then, that will probably keep these songs from falling into those coffee-stained hands. Vernon recorded the album in an isolated cabin, giving it a late-night intimacy that goes well with his controlled moping. The obvious benchmark here is Iron & Wine, but Bon Iver appears equally informed by rickety old blues and the Shrimper Records family of home-tapers. His knack for making the mournful upbeat and wringing new emotions from a guitar and other instruments is what holds our attention — both live and on record — while he spins catharsis into a kind of campfire folk that's absolutely universal.
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