As promised, here are the judges discussing Bon Iver‘s “For Emma, Forever Ago”. Tomorrow, find out what they had to say about Elbow.
Linda Thompson: I liked that there was a lot of life in this, there was no auto-tuning, there was no compressing of the vocals. It’s a little bit like Anthony Hegarty, there’s no phoniness. If you’re going to make a record that was, in a way, a bit pretentious then it wouldn’t work at all. But he’s very true in where he’s coming from, and I like the fact that he’s brought back multi-tracking, I haven’t heard multi-tracking in ages. He’s layered his little voice all over things, and that’s nice. It’s very obtuse, the lyrics, which I don’t like as much as when I was young. He’s mad as a box of frogs, and I like that too.
Danny Kelly: A lot of what I thought about it is the same as Linda was talking about. This is a record that is entirely about sound, isn’t it? I got to the end of it several times and I couldn’t work out if he’d made this record in the rush of ecstasy or in the depths of despair. You often can’t hear what his lovely multi-tracked voice is telling us. I liked the sound a lot at first, the strange bits of Beach Boys and Flaming Lips you can hear floating in and out of it. I liked it, there’s nothing not to like about it.
Oddly enough, when something different happens, the few occasions when it just allows itself to slip out of its own beautiful little world – and I love records that live in their own little world, it’s something music can do better than anything – I liked it when he disappears and we’re just left with a little instrumental.
I remember listening to it the third or fourth time, and when the horns came up in “For Emma”, I almost grabbed them and said “Thank God you’re here”. In the end, I got a bit annoyed with the sound being the dominant thing in it. One thing that all these records have got in common, now that we’ve reached a point in popular music when all the chords have been done and all the lyrics have been done and people spend all their time making them sound beautiful, all these records have got beautiful sounds in them, but this is one for me where that sound got too dominant.
Alison Howe: I love records, I like real records rather than MP3s or iTunes, I like to feel them. I got this record quite a long time ago, and I looked at the sleeve and thought “I really might like this”, I think I understood what might be on it. So when I put it on…, it’s interesting that Linda mentioned Antony, because I remember when I first heard Antony’s record, and I had the same feeling. I thought “Who is this?” I think I just got utterly consumed in the story behind it, and felt like I was almost with him in his log cabin.
I liked that feeling, because so many records don’t make me feel like I’m with the artist. But also like Antony’s record I did get to a point where I thought “enough, already”, but I still had enjoyed it. It’s quite rare, I find, these days to really enjoy the bulk of a record, so it’s one of my favourites. I wish I could talk more elegantly about the musical aspects of it, but I don’t really feel about records that way, I just know how they make me feel. And this made me feel calm. He came to Later… and played a song from it, and he didn’t let himself down.
Tony Wadsworth: It’s not my favourite of the eight, but I do think it’s a very good record. I think other people’s comments about the sound are quite interesting, because it reminds me of jazz records from the ‘50s where you hear the room as much as you can hear the actual music. There’s very much an atmosphere that it evokes, and that makes it intriguing to me. It’s very intimate. But what hasn’t been mentioned is that it’s got some really catchy tunes.
Linda: I think so too.
Tony: …So all of those things are great, but I think ultimately the reason why I didn’t mark it as my Number One was because after a few listens I felt it was just a bit too precious, like a piece of china you didn’t want to use because you might drop it. That’s being over-critical, maybe, but that’s what we’re here to do, I think.
Overall, it’s a really good album, but it makes me want to hear what he does next, more than want to play the hell out of this album. I do think it’s a beautiful album, but when I hear things on radio sessions or on blogs that he’s done in collaboration with people I’m intrigued more by that. It’s gonna be interesting to see whether he makes this record again, or, like Dylan, where every record is completely different, so let’s hope it’s the latter and that he’s an interesting artist to look forward to.
Allan Jones: Yeah, there is this suspicion about him that this is a unique one-off thing, and how do you repeat that.
Linda: It’s interesting that you say that, but we can’t really judge him on what he’s gonna be or not, so we have to forget about that.
Mark Radcliffe: I think I almost enjoyed him more on Later… than actually listening to the record. I got the album, listened to it, and though it was all right. I know that sounds like a cop-out in terms of a critical appreciation of something, but that’s how I felt. I think all the albums are great, we’ve got a really strong shortlist, and this is alright. But when I saw him on later I thought he was fantastic. He is really engaging, and I think you raised a really pertinent point about the backstory, because it’s such a romantic notion, the gestation of the record which adds an extra layer to it.
Linda: It would be so lovely if he’d made it all up, wouldn’t it?
Danny: Maybe he has, who knows? A brilliant lie is better than a boring truth, but I’ve no reason to believe this isn’t true.
Mark: So, I’m with Tony on this, I do think it’s a really good album, it probably is in the Top Ten of the year, I think the shortlist is about right. But it’s not my Number One.
Linda: What do you think his demographic is?
Mark: I’ve no idea, I never really think about demographics. I’ve never thought about who’s listening to a radio show, and I’ve never thought about who’s listening to a record. I should imagine it’s people like us, it might be a bit younger than that. Are Radio 1 playing it?
Alison: Not during the day.
Linda: Ha-ha! I’m going to call my next album that.
Mark: I don’t think it’s full of genius songs, I think there are a couple of really nice ones, but I don’t think it’s that consistent.