At the center of every album is a musical thesis. This thesis can be the driving force behind the album, a theme that interweaves songs together, or a feeling you are left with after the very last song plays. With some albums, the thesis is easy to find. On others, it is hidden and requires you to be more than a passive listener. These reviews aren’t about rating an album. Instead, it is about uncovering a musical thesis.
Of all the music I consume, my friends and I argue about Bon Iver the most. Everyone seems to be dived into two distinct camps: brilliant, emotionally stirring music versus I just don’t get it. I firmly find myself in the brilliant camp. There is just something about the way he composes a song that gets right to the heart of everything I am feeling. Do I understand every lyric? No. Has it taken me multiple listens to understand his message? Yes. It is this sense of discovery, revelation, and emotion that I love dearly. “For Emma, Forever Ago” may be the best expression of what I love about Bon Iver.
The thesis of this album seems to be built on a foundation of love. It is particularly focused on a love that got away. Now, this is not an uncommon theme in popular music. Hell, all music may be built on this very concept. I am looking at you Rhythm and Blues. The new approach here is found in the construction of the songs. They aren’t delivered in combinations you are used to hearing. There is no verse, chorus, verse, chorus, repetition. Instead, it feels like the songs are deconstructed and put together with puzzle pieces that don’t necessarily fit together but do.
This album also serves as a calming force. Finding such a state after love has slipped through your fingers is damn near impossible. At this point in your life, your world can feel void of meaning and filled with darkness. Bon Iver fills that space with sparse melodies and lyrics that get straight to the point. Beyond that, everything else is left in your capable hands. Life from here on out isn’t impossible. It just feels that way. You will overcome this.
Getting over a heartbreak is never easy. It is a hell of a feat. Yet, it must be done. Along the way, you discover you don’t have to do it alone. You can lean on friends and family. You can share war stories. You can reach for art, stories, and songs letting you know you are not alone. If I were to ever face heartbreak again, it would be this album that would help guide me through the darkness. I don’t know if Bon Iver set out to create such an album, but I am glad he did.