Album: Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago (4ad)

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In an age of ever-expanding conformity, the most valuable gift may be the singularity of one's artistic vision. Take Bon Iver, the nom de disque of Justin Vernon, formerly part of an obscure Wisconsin quartet.

Recorded during a winter spent alone in a snowbound cabin, chopping logs to keep from freezing and shooting deer to keep from starving, For Emma, Forever Ago has a distinctive, haunting presence comparable to Jose Gonzalez's Veneer and Bonnie Prince Billy's I See a Darkness – though sounding unlike either. A strange assemblage of memories and ruminations delivered in Vernon's high, keening multi-tracked falsetto over little more than simple strummed guitar, its beauty lies in its enigmatic mystery: it's hard to pick out more than the occasional phrase, but the cumulative effect is powerfully hypnotic.

He's working through personal issues of loss and abandonment, but though wounded by separation, there's a happy ending of sorts in the concluding "Re: Stacks", which ends with the line, "Your love is safe with me" – a testament, like the album as a whole, to the healing power of memory.

Pick of the album: 'Flume', 'For Emma', 'The Wolves (Act I and II)', 'Skinny Love'

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