It was a cold winter. The year was 2006. Justin Vernon, feeling dejected by life, sits in a cabin in Wisconsin. Alone. Living completely off the land and in many ways running from his problems, he starts to write songs he intended for no one to hear. Somehow these thoughts of a man attached to nothing start to build into one of the most beautiful and haunting projects in modern music. In this cabin, Vernon becomes Bon Iver. For Emma, Forever Ago is a 9 song project delivering about 37 minutes of unfiltered prose on the topics of love, rejection, and self image. Every track is produced in a way that feels almost nostalgic. Every song can transport the listener right into that little Wisconsin cabin in the dead of winter and while each one could receive its own editorial, I chose to focus on a few of my favorites. Skinny Love was many people’s, including my own, introduction to the world of Bon Iver. The guitars ring out like a campfire sing along in a production style I have yet to see anyone match. In many ways, it feels like a song you have heard your entire life. As it builds into this beautiful yet sad portrait of a relationship that could not last, you hear Vernon accepting the fate of his love in real time. It is such a rarity that songs this simple pack so much emotion and dynamics. 
Creature Fear is one of this album’s underappreciated masterpieces. I vividly remember my first time ever hearing the song. It was my senior year of highschool and I was thumbing through my freshman yearbook. Landscaped by a chorus of duplicated voices, the opening features one of the best melodies on the entire project. Just when it feels like the song will stay at this stripped back level, it starts to build into a chaotic yet beautiful crescendo. The drums chase out the rest of the track in a near anxiety-inducing way as Justin delivers some of the project’s most heartbreaking realizations. While this song's impact for me was definitely heightened by the context of my first listen, the build is one of my favorite musical pieces I have ever heard. It encapsulates all of the anxiety and desperation surrounding loss and change completely independent of the lyrics. For Emma is the closest thing on this project to a title track. This song sees Justin telling his ex to go find another lover to string along. In some ways it seems spiteful and in poor taste, but as the song progresses he declares that this Emma character is still very loveable. He can heal from the pain, hold her accountable, and also realize she is just a person who makes mistakes all at the same time. There is a certain complexity in his words that perfectly emulates the feeling of anger coupled with nostalgia when you lose someone you love. This seems to be the overarching theme of everything Vernon has to say. 
It is easy to view this project as a breakup album, but I do not think that quite works. For Emma, Forever Ago is about loss as a concept, not an event. On a very personal note, I heavily turned to this album after the passing of my grandfather. In the months since February, this album has soundtracked fits of crying, anger, and even a little bit of healing. For Emma ends with a small group of horns performing a simple melody over the guitar and drums. I have always viewed this part of the song as a moment for reflection. A moment to sit with yourself and remember you are human and it is your first time being alive. You are going to mess up, lose people you care about, and maybe disappear into the woods in Wisconsin. The important thing to remember is that eventually all of this will be Forever Ago. In the meantime, Bon Iver has some great music to help you through.
- Thomas W. Hagan

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