Bon Iver drops ‘22, A Million’

October 13, 2016

Dillon Nelson

Staff Reporter| djn005@latech.edu


With his first album in five years, “22, A Million,” Justin Vernon, lead singer and songwriter of Bon Iver, seems to be having more fun with his style then he has had on his previous two efforts combined. Vernon takes the mournful atmospherics of his debut album and the electronic playfulness of his sophomore album and fuses them both into a confident work of modern art.


The lyrics found on “22, A Million” are less concrete than those found on his previous two albums. The opener, “22 (OVER S∞ ∞N),” displays this approach as Vernon asks the question, “Where you gonna look for confirmation?” and seems to challenge the listener to rethink the way his music is experienced. As he sings on “666 ,” “f*ck the fashion of it.”


From here, Vernon gleefully indulges in purposeful coarse language, references to myth and mysticism and Stevie Nicks samples to forge a challenging musical path for himself. During a press conference at the Eaux Claire festival, Vernon gave insight into where his head was during the recording process for the album.


“I needed it to sound a little radical to feel good about putting something out in the world,” Vernon said. “For me, it’s not embarrassing, but the old records are of this kind of sad nature — I was healing myself through that stuff.”


“10 d E A T h b R E a s T” has perhaps the closest connection to this radical sentiment. Vernon takes a cue from Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreak,” filtering his pain through a vocoder and an aggressive beat. As he does on other tracks, Vernon invents words, in this case “unorphaned” and “f*ckified,” to paint a picture of pain, confusion and, ultimately, hope over the most drum-laden track he has ever produced.


A track like this runs the risk of turning off the band’s existing fan base, but this kind of experimentation proves the Bon Iver style has not stagnated over the past five years. From here, tracks such as “715 – CREEKS,” “33 ‘God’” and “8 (Circle)” continue to keep things thematically interesting by introducing explicit gospel tones in the lyrics and instrumentation.


These new themes might seem a little out of place upon first listen given the lack of precedent in Bon Iver’s previous works. However, the irreverent, vocoded appeal to lyrics like, “Godd*mn turn around now/ You’re my A-Team” or “We find God and religions too/ Staying at the Ace Hotel” allows them to mix in with the band’s established “electro-folk” aesthetic pretty well.


“21 Moon Water,” a nearly acapella track with spare lyrics about “the math ahead” and “math behind it,” is probably the purest distillation of Vernon’s new writing approach despite being the weakest song on the album in terms of songwriting. This track manages to encapsulate an idea which one of Vernon’s friends, Travis Hagen, put forth in his album announcement statement.


“Inside these numbers are a sonic distillation of imagery from the past years of turbulence and how to recover,” Hagen said.


Though the “how to” of this math is murky, Bon Iver, “22, A Million” gives the overall impression that moving forward is possible with just a little bit of faith. Whether this faith is achieved with the help of distortion and fat.


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