Bon Iver- For Emma, Forever Ago

Quality: 5

Clean: 3

Genre: art-folk, indie

I’m a bit late. For Emma, Forever Ago, was released last year, February 2008. Not to mention that last week Bon Iver released a new EP, Blood Bank. But after hearing NPR’s unabashed applause for Emma, I decided I couldn’t skip it just to be with the times.

Bon Iver is pronounced Bon EEvar, French-ish for “good winter.”  Not just a pseudonym for Justin Vernon, the vocalist and composer of the songs, the name is also for the band and for the spirit of the album. “It’s more of a sentiment that I’m trying to attach to what we do musically, as a group and as a project,” he says. “That sentiment being one of, I don’t know, geographical reference. And us being from where we come from, I think that’s who we are. And we are who we are because of where we come from.”

Holed up in a northern Wisconsin cabin in the dead of winter, Justin Vernon wrote the collective of songs in a two month period . There, he confronted his demons. He says: “everyone kind of builds up negative energy in their life, and for me, it just built up a little too long. And I think I went up there to really fix myself. That’s what it was kind of about for me.”

For Emma, is beautifully produced with warm instrumentals. Acoustic guitar is central, but there are highlights of base and electric guitar, snare drum, whistling, brass and others. Unlike so many other indie artists, the instruments aren’t there just because, but they add to the story of each song, producing their own perfectly crafted artistic affect. Justin’s voice is another instrument, sung in falsetto, it communicates an other-worldly and choir-like feeling. One song, Wolves, surprisingly uses Auto-tune, however it doesn’t sound out of place or pretentious on this organic album. Instead, the emptiness of the computer-generated voice perfectly emphasizes the lifeless love sung  about.

The album is minimal and stark. Somehow though, after listening to it over and over, I am not dragged down into hopeless despair. The music is cathartic, as if listening to it I have worked out some of my own issues. NPR’s article expressed of Skinny Love perfectly what I was thinking of the entire project: “But as dark as it gets, the song, with its unforgettable steel-guitar hook, is too gorgeous to function as a true downer.” Written in winter, the album embodies the season by capturing the mood of foggy skies and desolate snow-scapes.

How else can I describe the sound of Bon Iver? There are elements of Arcade Fire, Cold Play, Smashing Pumpkins, Antony & the Johnsons, and James Taylor, but, Bon Iver is something all its own. Listen to him yourself and see.

For a Clean rating, I give the album a 3. Most of the time I can’t understand the words, or I catch a few here and there but not an entire song. If I look up the words on some lyrics website, I find that they are quite sad. Skinny Love, sounds like a suicide letter. Other songs are vague, about land, loss, cold. Good poetry, for sure. The music is what carries this album, and its ok that the words are unclear. Similar to Son Lux, the words are the accompaniment, not the star.

Listen to Flume on NPR’s media player. Scroll down to the bottom of the article. The first song is Flume. Click on “Listen.” The media player will pop up in a separate window and will begin to play.

Links:, NPR’s interview


Storm, Lifehouse

Quality: 4

Clean: 5

Genre: rock

A friend pointed out to me the song Storm by Lifehouse the other day. The lyrics are poignant, conveying that horrible disorienting sense of being utterly lost. There is also hope however, because the lyrics insist that “if I could just see you, everything will be alright, if I’d see you, the storminess will turn to light.” Whether searching for a lifeline, or knowing there is one and waiting for it to come, having hope or looking forward something better can make a huge difference in the midst or our sufferings.

The story of Jesus walking on the water comes to mind. Especially when Peter walks on it too, and then gets scared and starts to sink below the waves. Jesus then catches him. Maybe Lifehouse was using this story as a metaphor, or maybe just the water itself was the metaphor, but without the story. Either way, it is effective.

Psalm 130 comes to my mind when I listen to Storm. Perhaps because I have had my small portion of sufferings and have clung to these words. Listening to Storm, reminds me of those times. Perhaps also because when I am suffering, no one I know, can truly provide me with the peace that I need. No matter how good a relationship I have with a friend, mentor or significant other, I have to handle my trouble alone. There is one exception. The Lord comforts me and walks with me. He gives true hope. Not just hope that I will feel better, but hope that indeed “everything will be all right,” because he redeems my life. He changes it. He renews it. When I pray, he is with me, the best friend that only he can be. Psalm 130 reads:

Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord!
O Lord hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than the watchmen for the morning,
more than the watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Here are the lyrics to Storm. Listen to the song and read the lyrics together.

How long have I
been in this storm
so overwhelmed by the ocean’s shapeless form
water’s getting harder to tread
with these waves crashing over my head

If I could just see you
everything will be alright
if I’d see you
this darkness turn to light

And I will walk on water
and you will catch me if I fall
and I will get lost into your eyes
and everything will be alright
and everything will be alright

I know you didn’t
bring me out here to drown
so why am I ten feet under and upside down
barely surviving has become my purpose
cause I’m so used to living underneath the surface

If I could just see you
everything will be alright
if I see you
the storminess will turn to light

And I will walk on water
and you will catch me if I fall
and I will get lost into your eyes
and everything will be alright

And I will walk on water
you will catch me if I fall
and I will get lost into your eyes
and everything will be alright
I know everything is alright
everything’s alright

Other Best Of 2008 Lists

I’m a bit behind, but yesterday I finally perused Pitchfork‘s best of 2008 list. Going through the best albums list, at first I felt extremely out of it and old because I had only heard of a had full of the bands.  On the best song list, there are little snippets of some you can listen to on the website. After a few, I had had enough. I was thoroughly annoyed. Sheesh! I only liked a few of the songs and this was supposed to be their BEST of the year. Most of them sounded amateur, undeveloped, generic, and vocally poor. There were a few that I could appreciate/respect, but this was the exception.  I finally and reluctantly came to the conclusion, that Pitchfork can be pretentious. It felt like a relief. I read their reviews because they are known for their witty and sometimes sarcastic opinions plus the fact that they focus on indie or at least lesser known artists. But I can’t think of one artist that I have discovered and loved through Pitchfork. Also, some of the songs, names of artists, words in the reviews etc. can be unclean. This is not a website to send your five year old to check out.

Quality: 2

Clean: 2.5

This morning I decided to listen to NPR’s All Songs Considered year in review. They didn’t let me down. Listening to their radio show from December 8th via the internet, was a pleasure. There were four critics, endeeringly nerdy, funny, and unpretentious, who each shared their favorite new artists, biggest surprises, and favorite songs of the year. I wrote down several artists and songs to check into later. Because it was played on the radio, the show was clean. Son Lux was even featured as one of the best new artists of the year (29 minutes in), making me very excited and like a fellow music nerd.

Quality: 4.5

Clean: 4

Family Force 5- Dance or Die

Quality: 3

Clean: 4

Genre: rock, electronic, pop


There is a Christian radio station in town that primarily plays alternative and hard rock music. I try to listen to it because I want to get to know more Christian music, and I feel like I should try to support a radio station that is at least trying to play good music. The problem is that most of the music sounds the same and I don’t even like it all that much. Consequently, whenever I hear a song that is remotely different or interesting, I try to find out more about it. I heard Fever once and had to look it up. It was different from most other songs on this station because it had electronic elements- the vocals are synthesized- and you know I am a sucker for electronic elements.

Dance or Die is Family Force 5’s second album. Their first was heavier, like Linkin Park, or Rage Against the Machine. Dance or Die is more like a throw back to 80’s synth pop, mixed together with music like The Killers and other such indie/punk music.  When I listened to the songs on their myspace page, I liked, but didn’t love them. I didn’t want to give up though, because I’m always trying to support Christian bands that are different/interesting/don’t sound the same as all the bands/at least good. So I cruised over to Christianity Today‘s music review website (which is actually pretty good). The review basically said the album was too much about fun and didn’t have enough substance either lyrically or musically to carry it. I quickly dismissed the review as being written by old people and bought the album.

I frequently wish there was more music out there, without swears or innuendos, that was fun just for fun’s sake. Fun music doesn’t have to mean anything, it can just be fun. I’m not sure if I’ve changed my mind or not, but the pure lack of substance on this album got on my nerves after a while. The lyrics are just silly. For example, Fever, is about a um, fever, that is well, burning up…”somebody call the New York Times, this fever’s gonna make the headlines.” What does that even mean? Actually, I wouldn’t mind it if there was at least one or two songs with some heft to them, but every song is silly,and meaningless. There are some lyrics that made me think: While listening to D-I-E 4 Y-O-U, I wondered if the song was about Christ, you know the whole dying thing and all…or perhaps even a martyr being willing to die for Christ…but there is nothing in the lyrics to suggest such an interpretation. If the band wasn’t signed to a Christian label I wouldn’t have even thought twice. Another song, How in the World, is a pretty sweet love song, that could be interpreted to be written to Christ, but again, there is nothing in the lyrics to suggest such an interpretation. In fact, there is nothing on the entire album to suggest that this band is “Christian.”

I’m breaking my own rules, because I usually think that a band or album should be taken for what it is, on its own terms, and not for what we think it should be or what it was expected to be. Dance or Die, is supposed to be fun. That was the one and only objective and in that, it succeeded. Also, because they are “Christian” the album is free of swears and innuendos. I should be happy and move on.

I’m not happy. I have to agree that Christianity Today’s review was right on. A single song can be fun, but an entire album should have balance. There should be other songs to bring out a theme, or to remind us why Family Force 5 claim to be Christians, or even that they have emotions. Dance or Die, is one of those albums with two good songs, and the rest sounds too much the same to palate all at once.


How in the World: