Ten years ago marks the official release of Bon Iver’s heart-wrenching debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago. And while its release very well may have felt like forever ago, it introduced the world to Justin Vernon, the band’s frontman and founder who has since become a lasting voice in the world of folk music and beyond with his transcendent songwriting and continually inventive prowess.
For Emma, Forever Ago was written primarily in isolation in a cabin in northern Wisconsin and delivers a profound sense of emotive depth through its purposeful minimalism. Bon Iver, the band’s self-titled sophomore album, won the band multiple nominations at 2012’s Grammy Awards, including two Grammy wins for Best Alternative Album of the Year and Best New Artist. Bon Iver’s latest album and perhaps their opus, 22, A Million, marked a departure from the primarily folksy-elements employed on past records, opting for greater use for electronic production and vocal modulation to universal critical acclaim.
There’s no doubt about it – Vernon is one of the greatest songwriters and musical talents of our time. Vernon’s ability to draw out a wellspring of emotion from the utmost minimal of instrumentation, coupled with his capacity to constantly evolve and deliver left-field experimentations without ever sacrificing his underlying sense of artistry, makes it likely that fans will still be praising his artistic endeavors in the decades to come. So, in honor of this universally-acclaimed talent and the ten-year anniversary of For Emma, Forever Ago that introduced the world to Bon Iver and Justin Vernon, meet six Ones To Know if you’re a fan of Bon Iver.
One of the elements that originally made Bon Iver such a noteworthy act in 2008 was the band’s fresh take on folk music, and one of the things that make Julien Baker such a noteworthy act today is her fresh take on folk music. Memphis, Tennessee-born and raised Julien Baker is not only providing a novel approach to the genre of folk itself, but the preconceptions typically associated with the genre and the South. The 22-year-old profound songwriting talent openly identifies as a queer Christian who is accepted by her local church. Baker dynamically channels these facets of herself into poignant sonic works of art, such as on her critically-acclaimed debut and sophomore albums, Sprained Ankle and Turn Out The Lights.
Some of Vernon’s most interesting creative endeavors have been the byproduct of collaborating with fellow outstanding musical genius James Blake, as seen on “Fall Creek Boys Choir” and “I Need A Forest Fire.” Yoste arrives at the intersection of James Blake and Justin Vernon. The 22-year-old Australian producer and songwriter first rose to prominence with his single, “Chihiro,” a meditative slow-building track that exemplifies the beautifully moving power found within simplicity. Since the release of “Chihiro,” Yoste has continued on in releasing singles that demonstrate the young talent’s innate ability for giving life to vivid sonic landscapes abounding with emotion, including 2018’s standout single “Arc.”
The parallels to Allan Rayman and Bon Iver are readily apparent. The two are both enigmatic figures who self-released their debut album, Rayman’s Hotel Allan in 2015, to unexpected major word-of-mouth-fueled buzz, they share a talent for utilizing minimalism to the fullest, and they have a penchant for titling songs after landlocked locales. Perhaps it has something to do with that landlocked placement, as Rayman’s native Lost Springs, Wyoming seems to actively inform the mysterious music figure’s mixture of alluring indie R&B, soul, hip-hop and folk music. The resulting combination sounds simultaneously as classic as the artist’s mountain state, as much as it resounds like something wholly unwitnessed and new unto itself.
Truly touching music coexists as poetry. It’s the summation of the mundane and day-to-day life experiences we witness every day, which, when put to song, transforms the day-to-day into something grandiose that speaks to our very soul. In For Emma, Forever Ago, Vernon summarized his life events at the time, ranging from lost love to plain mediocrity, and Swedish rising star Albin Lee Meldau transforms the often harsh realities he’s borne witness to into soul-bearing numbers. One needs to look no further than “Lou Lou,” the singer’s standout hit that grapples with themes of addiction, mental illness, and drug abuse, to bear witness to a newcomer with an arresting voice who is actively transforming the world around him into musical poetry.
Folk music has historically been a genre that functions dually as an art form and a system for passing down stories through the medium of song. It’s one of the intrinsic aspects of both Bon Iver and Nick Mulvey’s music that gives it its insightful sense of depth; these are not only songs but the history of a moment in time. Mulvey is a two-time Mercury Award–nominated artist who originally found critical success as a member of UK electronic jazz band Portico Quartet. Since his departure from Portico Quartet, Mulvey has established himself as a solo artist capturing the tales and voices of underrepresented communities through his timeless voice and guitar prowess. Mulvey crafts not just songs but celebrations of the human experience.
In much the same vein that Bon Iver was an unsigned act that became an overnight sensation, Lewis Capaldi’s beginnings follow a very similar path. The 21-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter became the fastest ever unsigned artist to amass 25-million plays on Spotify with his breakout hit, “Bruises,” which has since gone on to garner 45-million plays at the time of this writing. It’s no wonder why either. There’s an unadulterated, raw emotional sincerity that permeates Capaldi’s music. Over the course of a single EP, 2017’s Bloom, Capaldi touches upon all the cornerstones of what exactly makes an artist a great folk singer-songwriter for the ages. It’s vulnerable, unrepentant in its brutally honest portraits of heartbreak, and beautifully intimate.