It’s been something like four months since I first mentioned the debut album by Bon Iver, and since then, there have been few records I’ve played as much. In Uncut’s world, I suspect “For Emma, Forever Ago” may turn out to be one of the most significant albums released in the UK in 2008. I certainly hope so, anyway.

It’s been something like four months since I first mentioned the debut album by Bon Iver, and since then, there have been few records I’ve played as much. In Uncut’s world, I suspect “For Emma, Forever Ago” may turn out to be one of the most significant albums released in the UK in 2008. I certainly hope so, anyway.

As far as I can work out, “For Emma” has actually been released twice in the States already, on two different labels. Over here, though, it’s not officially out – on 4AD – until May. At first, you’ll probably be reminded of those very early Iron & Wine records, the way you can hear the creak and scrape of the acoustic guitar, and the sounds of the room in which it was recorded.

Soon, though, the guitar on the opening track, “Flume”, is overwhelmed by a peculiar kind of rootsy ambience, the vocals are multitracked and downy, and the effect is at once downhome and transcendent. This is the work, chiefly, of one man, Justin Vernon, shut away in a hunting cabin in North West Wisconsin over December 2006 and January 2007, possibly “with the wild wolves around you,” as he sings in “The Wolves (Act I And II)”.

Vernon only has his own multitracked voice for company, it seems, and the intense intimacy of “For Emma” can be unnerving; as if we’re listening to a man hearing a host of voices in his own head. The thing is, while Vernon sometimes sounds agonised – particularly on “Skinny Love” – his voices most often configure themselves into a sort of celestial choir.

There’s an odd, dislocated hint of soul and gospel to many of these songs, and when that’s delivered with such an ethereal glow, I’m reminded – like many other critics, in fairness – of Vernon’s new labelmates, TV On The Radio. I can’t recall offhand, though, an album which has balanced so well that discreet, processed trickery (the digital flutter on “Blindsided” reminds me of Fennesz, faintly) and the sort of singer-songwriter activity habitually described as naked, honest and so on (I am restraining myself from making my weekly rant about the fallacy of authenticity here, but you get the picture).

As I write this morning, I’m listening on headphones, which strikes me as the best way to take in “For Emma”, and paying attention to individual songs for maybe the first time: it’s one of those albums which flows so organically, so satisfyingly, and with a stealthy swiftness, that I always deal with it as a whole. So, I can now say that “The Wolves” and “Creature Fear” most strikingly supplement the acoustic guitar and rapturous voices formula: the former has drums which sound like fireworks in the distance; the latter features the measured appearance of an electric guitar, a bass, some austerely fierce drums, and whistling (all provided by Vernon). Apparently “Flume” features drums and vocals by someone called Christy Smith, as I read the sleeve credits, which I should listen to again.

Now, there’s the title track, which reminds me, very vaguely, of Lambchop playing a New Orleans parade: a subtle march, augmented by a trumpet and a trombone. Like everything here, it’s astonishingly lovely. Let me know what you think of this one, if you can track it down.