JustinA native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Justin Vernon left the upper Midwest in the early years of the 21st century to resettle in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his band DeYarmond Edison.  They recorded two albums before Vernon headed back north to recuperate from mononucleosis and, more to it, a breakup with a girlfriend, and to ruminate about his uncertain musical career.  He retreated for the winter to a secluded cabin about 80 miles east of Eau Claire, bringing along some instruments and old rudimental recording equipment.  As he recovered, he began to write songs, which he recorded by looping his voice and guitar, and adding ambient and atmospheric sounds.  The resulting album was “For Emma, Forever Ago,” released under the name Bon Iver, a play on the French words for “good winter.”  It was an unexpected success.

The first few bars of “Flume,” the opening track on “For Emma, Forever Ago,” suggested a lo-fi folk album, but that impression dissipated quickly with Vernon’s vocal entry:  his falsetto was overdubbed for texture and richness, but it didn’t lose its plaintive quality.  When Vernon returned after an instrumental bridge of tinny sounds, the voice revealed itself as powerful as well.  He followed up with “Lump Sum,” a chugging track that featured his voice and some lovely orchestrations at a ghostly distance.   That the music appeared to be arriving from a far-away place gave it an air of mystery, heightening its appeal.  “The Wolves (Act I and II)” utilized the effect brilliantly as Vernon’s voice, layered to create a gospel-folk hybrid, echoed in the solemn, airy environment even as acoustic guitars grew more assertive and drums that sounded like exploding fireworks intervened.  “Solace my game, it stars you,” he sang mournfully.  “Someday my pain.”

On “Creature,” Vernon stacked his voice to form a thick harmony over simple plucked notes and arpeggiated chords on acoustic guitar, then introduced pounding drums and bass to emphasize the lyrics:  “I was full by your count/I was lost but your fool/Was a long visit wrong?”  The track bled into “Team,” in essence an extended instrumental outro to the prior song.  The crackle of the equipment and Vernon’s whistling reinforced the sense that the music was coming from a man alone.

With its bright brass (overdubbed later), pedal-steel-like guitar and assertive folk guitar, “Emma” was Vernon’s acknowledgment that he had progressed in his recovery.  He sang:  “For every life, forgo the parable/Seek the light, my knees are cold/Running home, running home.”  Over a strummed guitar, he sang in “Re: Stacks,” the album’s concluding song, of regaining direction and purpose.  “I’ve been twisted to the sun/I needed to replace… /This is not the sound of a new man or a crispy realization/It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away.”  The album concluded with Vernon turning from the microphone, floorboards creaking.

Vernon released “For Emma, Forever Ago” by himself in 2007.   After several positive reviews in music media, the indie label Jagjaguwar re-issued it in 2008 in the U.S. ; and 4AD, a London-based label committed to independent music, marketed it in the U.K. and Europe.  The album found an audience that appreciated its frank sense of groping toward self-discovery as well as Vernon’s appealing bittersweet voice and thoughtful arrangements.

Since then, Vernon has been among the most adventurous musicians, working with James Blake, Anaïs Mitchell, St. Vincent, Colin Stetson and Kanye West.  He released several albums in various guises including a second full-length Bon Iver disc, “Bon Iver, Bon Iver,” that included contributions from Greg Leisz, Rob Moose, Stetson and other notable musicians.  In an example of the organization’s unfathomable logic, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented Bon Iver with a Grammy as the year’s Best New Artist – about four years after “For Emma, Forever Ago” was released.

In 2012, Vernon announced from the stage of an arena in Dublin that Bon Iver was at its end, though he may have been talking about the version he had put together for the tour rather than a permanent cessation.   No new Bon Iver studio recordings have been issued since, but with “For Emma, Forever Ago” Vernon made a lasting statement that is likely to never lose its resonance.