It’s not an enjoyable process, trying to nail down what you think is the best album of the decade. It’s a drawn out, tedious ordeal. Some albums had that instant, ‘slap-in-the-face amazing’ effect but grew tiresome to some degree while others discreetly worked their magic. For me, the task was made harder by the fact that only in the past year did I expand my musical horizons, stumbling upon gems such as Fingers Crossed by Architecture in Helsinki and Animal Collective‘s Merriweather Post Pavillion.
In making my choice however I chose to overlook my new romances and also, eventually, discarded post-rock favourites Mogwai and Explosions in The Sky. I was left torn between two acoustic beauties; Eddie Vedder‘s soundtrack to Into The Wild and For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver. Both are emotionally stirring pieces of art and appropriately short in duration so that to listen from start to end doesn’t feel a chore. The latter won in the end on the basis of the strength of each individual track, not a hint of filler here.
The album opens with the breathtaking Flume, a suitably subtle into as the simple guitar riff echoes softly before Justin Vernon’s mournful voice almost whispers, “I am my mother’s only one, it’s enough.” From this very instant the unashamedly personal nature of Vernon’s lyrics is apparent as is his powerful delivery. The impact made by Flume is carried throughout the remaining eight tracks.
My first encounter with Bon Iver came as I was flicking aimlessly through the countless music channels and I came across a sound like nothing I had heard before, The Wolves (Act I and II). The opening notes allowed to resonate long enough to send a shiver down the spine before a chorus of voices proclaim, “someday my pain, someday my pain will mark you.” For two and a half minutes the song maintains it’s slow soulful sound before the tempo increases ever-so-slightly and the sense of building to a climax is notable as the cries of “what might have been lost” grow louder to compete with the bashing of symbols before the song exits as gently as it entered.
My selection is based purely on the music but the story behind the album is better than most and goes a long way to explaining the anguish which is tangible throughout. Vernon, in the aftermath of a break-up retreated to a log cabin in the snow to gain some perspective. He filled his days by hunting for his food, chopping firewood and allowing his inner turmoil inspire his songwriting. The initial recording was done in the cabin and even after being mastered the album retains it’s rawness. Throughout the nine tracks Vernon caresses soft guitar with high-pitched vocals dripping with emotion. I could preach about the beauty of each individual track as they all possess something different and impact in their own way but the album is best summed up by its piece de resistance, Skinny Love. I sometimes worry that so much attention is given to this track that it overshadows the other songs (I know I am a case in point) but it really is an oustanding piece of work and in my view one of the greatest pieces of music ever composed. It possess all the traits which define the album, the unique guitar sound, Vernon’s ability to vary his vocals to emphasise the emotion of the lyrics and an overall sound that makes you want to stop whatever you are doing and give your undivided attention to this wonderful music.
“if all your love is wasted, well then who the hell was I?”
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