When Bon Iver released For Emma, Forever Ago in 2008, it captivated listeners with its soft melodies and solemn introspection.
As time has gone on, Justin Vernon has continuously found a way to dive deeper into that well of untamed emotion, and through each release he's maintained and expanded upon his poetic yearning and hushed brooding. "It's as if he's trying to inhabit the in-between spaces separating musical expression and private rumination, exposing his regrets without relinquishing them," wrote Pitchfork.
Vernon's music has always been a catalyst for my emotional breakdowns, for the days I just want to sink into myself. "Holocene," "715 – Creeks," "For Emma," "Wash," and "29 #Strafford APTS" are just a few of the tracks that have been there to pull me down deep into an emotional swamp, reassuring me along the way that loud, aggressive sobbing in my neighborhood Starbucks is totally acceptable—even encouraged. Cathartic and dismantling, his falsetto is like a superpower, chipping away at listeners until they're raw. No one can escape it, and that's why when Vernon released "Hey, Ma," and "U (Man Like)," I waited until I was completely alone in my bedroom to listen.
"Hey, Ma" is laser-focused, with Vernon trimming the hedges and honing the glitchy tones of 22, a Million while leaning back into the soft-spoken folk of his first two releases. His ambient storytelling is still present, but this time around it takes its most palpable shape, with Vernon cooing to his mother, "Full time you talk your money up, tall time to call your ma, hey ma!" The second single, "U (Man Like)" is a brazen call to action from Vernon, as he asks for his fellow man to step up. "How much caring is there of some American love when there's lovers sleeping in your streets?" Compared to the existential questions Vernon has asked in the past, both tracks are thematically conspicuous and relatively grounded, previewing a new Bon Iver who's more concerned with being a better person in this realm than finding his place in the universe. The results are two songs that are catchy but manage to instill a feeling of hope and reflection. Yes, they will also make you cry.