Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Earnest-singer-songwriter music is not usually my style, but For Emma, Forever Ago is undeniably good. It exudes Americana in its rich layered acoustics and frontman Justin Vernon’s signature falsetto. The album opener “Flume” sounds like an ode to the modern cowboy with its contemplative humming and buzzy guitar string vibrations.
Despite the bright acoustics and stereo harmony featured throughout For Emma, the album features the theme of emptiness in abundance. The end of “The Wolves (Act I and II)” unfolds like a musical, with one character bemoaning “What might have been lost” and another brushing it off like “Don’t bother me.” The common thread throughout the album is isolation, which renders For Emma a timeless soundtrack for self-reflection. Did I mention that Vernon withdrew into the woods to record this album in a remote cabin in northern Wisconsin? Talk about a grand gesture.
For an earnest-singer-songwriter, Vernon’s lyrics are somewhat indiscernible. We connect with this album because it’s emotionally rich. In recording, Vernon focused more on the sound of his vocal songs rather than pre-written lyrics, and the end result is something that is undeniably ear-worthy and distinctive. For Emma created a demand for Justin Vernon beyond the acoustic loner realm, launching collaborations that incorporated his voice and production skills in the hip-hop, R&B and synthpop arenas.