When we're 13 or so, someone shoves a copy of Thoreau's Walden into our hands, and suddenly, the idea of losing ourselves in nature takes root. We remember the dark thrill of reading Hansel and Gretel when we were children. In the woods, there may be witches and wolves, but there's also no one to answer to.
That drove Christopher McCandless, who was seeking Walden's promise of "a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore." As preteens in the Connecticut River Valley, where I grew up, my friends and I would ditch our houses in the middle of the night to go on long walks deep into the woods. We had to get away.
Bon Iver, a band that conjures pioneer fantasies in disaffected suburbanites, is headed by Justin Vernon, rock's current Thoreau. 2008's For Emma, Forever Ago came swathed in a Waldenesque origin story involving a remote cabin in the Wisconsin woods, a long convalescence and a torrid breakup.
Bon Iver returns Vernon and listeners to the world. Each song is named after a city or town—"Calgary," "Hinnom, TX"—and the cover places a small house in remote lake country. Musically, the folkloric lonesomeness of For Emma is exchanged for a staggering psychedelic soft rock. It's suited to '70s AM radio, but still perfectly appropriate for the hinterlands.
We listen to Bon Iver to be transported away. This album takes us far, but we never lose sight of the porch lights in the distance.