Much has been made out of Justin Vernon’s recording, For Emma, Forever Ago, coming out of a hunting cabin in the nowhere of northwestern Wisconsin. His backwoods, back-to-the-land lifestyle is only good accompaniment for an already well-crafted rural album. Yes, to imagine a place does make this album better, but only to a point.
At times (“Lump Sum,” for instance) leaning too heavily toward adult contemporary, For Emma resists sentimentality in much the same way M. Ward’s Post-War was able to experiment with basic pop structures while doing them well. The mix of melancholic horns with a repetitive, strong guitar strum on “For Emma” creates a timeless sound. The strength is in Vernon’s ability to make a quiet, lonely album that is not boring. Nor is it easily placed into any one genre, unless it’s music recorded in rural Wisconsin cabins.