Ghostly and Ethereal, Bon Iver Finds Catharsis
Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago conjures warm memories of Chris Whitley's best music: Each sounds ghostly and ethereal, radiating otherworldly beauty, but also strangely gritty in a way that gives it heft. For Emma's best song — and, mark it down now, one of the best tracks of 2008 — "Skinny Love" finds singer-guitarist Justin Vernon alternating a ghostly falsetto with bracing, full-throated choruses that hint at looming doom: "In the morning, I'll be with you / but it will be a different kind."
Vernon is a deft enough lyricist to keep "Skinny Love" opaque, but a close listen reveals that this isn't so much a breakup letter as a suicide note ("I'll be holding all the tickets / and you'll be owning all the fines"). But as dark as it gets, the song, with its unforgettable steel-guitar hook, is too gorgeous to function as a true downer. Cathartic shout-along fodder for melancholy late-night drives, "Skinny Love" announces Bon Iver as a budding powerhouse, not so much promising as fully formed.
This story originally ran on Jan. 23, 2008.
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