Review: 22, a Million – Bon Iver

Editor’s note: The individual reviewing the album has a vivid history of enjoying the two previous Bon Iver LP’s.

The Bon Iver saga is one shrouded in a disorienting haze. It is, in fact, necessary to know that which brought about 22, a Million. Justin Vernon, main brain behind the musical phenomenon that is Bon Iver, has created a long, detailed, metaphysically evolutionary story with his musical projects. Briefly, his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, is a humble, insecure, and wounded story. It mixes folk elements with technical ones, and exposes Vernon as a character who forms these vast, reminiscently familiar musical atmospheres with lyrics that refer to his emotional state after breaking up with his ex, Emma, what seems like forever ago. His second self titled LP is still sensitive, but bolder in its confidence. The musical tone blurs the line between reality and dreamscape. It has an ethereal tone that maintains it’s folk roots, but obscures the recognizable with long, winding periods of quiet electronic hums. Vernon is still frightened about the mysteries of life, but is brave enough now to face them. The music, naturally, reflects this dichotomy well.

Which leads us here, dear reader. 22, a Million, Bon Iver’s LP which will be officially released tomorrow, captures all of the angles that are familiar with Bon Iver. We have those Wisconsin-raised, rustic Americana folk nuances. Elements of banjo, church organ, and a pissed off violin are found leading songs. Even jazz elements are tinkered with. Saxophones and trumpets battle for your attention while drums beat quietly in the background.

But, without a doubt, Vernon has felt overwhelmingly confident embracing the largely electronic chasms of sounds he had only once experimented with before. While it was typical in Bon Iver’s last two albums to have the folk provide a foundation for these electronic experiments, this album shakes that paradigm. Vernon is autotuned for a large portion of the album, which ironically, adds to a sincerity of songs like “715 – CRΣΣKS.” His voice, and often the voices of others, are looped in the track, especially on “22 (OVER S∞∞N) and “33 “GOD””. Heavy, almost angry, syncopated drums beat in the background of “10 d E A T h b R E s T,” while Vernon sings “fever rest/fever rest . . . darling, don’t make love fight it. . . unorphaned in our northern lights. ” Once again, Vernon has blended the real and the merely perceived, creating a hypocritical comfort zone.

Throughout the album, Vernon distorts the familiar, manipulates conventional sounds, and easily twists jumbled sounds into organic ones. It meticulously synthesizes the serenity of nature (weirdly, one you’d think of in the forests of Wisconsin), the inability to deny technology from day to day life (what glowing rectangle are you watching this on, dear reader?), and personal feebleness.

Consequentially, it is the far most removed from the Bon Iver canon. While there are homages to his previous works, this album could stand independently on it’s own. There are tracks that are rattled and angry, and there are these gorgeous marathon tracks that spread like butter. All that is familiar with Bon Iver is there, but this innovative approach shatters nostalgia. Once again, Bon Iver shows how opposites attract, how confidence is shaken, how fear is crippled, how emotions exist on a spectrum, and emotional purity is more like a Jackson Pollack painting than a crisp HD picture. That which we know is never certain, and even language can be fabricated in a way that conveys detailed information in a totally made-up way (see lyrics like “times the raker,” “fuckified,” and my favorite, “wandry.”).

Go listen, dear reader, to this album that will first shatter your glass mind, then glues it back together perfectly into place, with the pieces totally rearranged.

-Zachary Lee

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