Bon Iver

22, A Million

Written by: MIN on 17/12/2016 16:27:28

Although every release by Wisconsin folk/indie-favorites Bon Iver has seen change, the band’s third album ”22, A Million” still came as quite a surprise, sonically. Upon first listen, the album feels like a long way from the now classic ”For Emma, Forever Ago” from 2007. That album was mostly quiet folk from an isolated cabin in the woods. On the ”Blood Bank” EP, the song ”Woods” suddenly mixed up things with its heavy use of synthesizer and nothing but vocal harmonies. The synthesizers were further explored on ”Beth/Rest” on the quiet/loud album ”Bon Iver, Bon Iver” from 2011. On their third album, however, Justin Vernon and co. fully embraces synthesizers, samples, programming and the occasional electronic distortion. But don’t fret: ”22, A Million” is just as endearing and delicate as it is inventive.

It’s become a common prejudice by people alien to or even antagonistic towards electronic music that any such use kills passion and actual musicianship. Wrong: when used properly, when really synchronized with the organic tissue that’s wrapped around the raw nerves of non-electronic music, the symbiosis reveals and highlights all the strengths of the songs. In the case of “22, A Million”, it opens up a brand new world of alternative music. Radiohead’s “Kid A” is an easy and evident comparison, but it’s still so different. Although Justin Vernon’s high falsetto is already a voice of its own, the way he twitches and turns it through the use of vocoders and synthesizers is remarkable, making such harmonies as the final chorus in “29 #Strafford APTS” punch you in the heart even harder than the first two times it appeared, just because a well-placed glitch in the stereo breaks the soundwave, thus revealing the song’s true frailty.

But as much as the electronics provide sweet despair, the beginning of “8 (circle)”, the album’s true centerpiece, can’t be beat when Vernon’s clear and naked voice booms out ”I’m standing in your street now // And I carry his guitar” in this mid-80s Springsteenesque ballade. Simply because the ambience and distortion wouldn’t work without the album’s wonderful body of work; all the music presented throughout is amazing on its own. Whether it’s the subtle blaring of saxophones on “____45_____”, the delicate piano of “00000 Million” or the abrasive and distorted drumming of “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄”, it all adds something to Bon Iver’s artsy folktronica.

Oh, then how we gonna cry? // Cause it once might not mean something // Love, a second glance // It is not something that we’ll need // Honey, understand that I have been left here in the reeds // But all I’m trying to do is get my feet out from the crease

“715 – CRΣΣKS” features nothing but Justin Vernon’s voice in different layers, harmonizing over synthesizers, creating one of the album’s many highlights. It’s also one of the few examples on the album where Justin Vernon’s veiled words make sense without one having to think like Alan Turing before being able to properly decipher them. Many songs are hard to break down (such as “21 M♢♢N WATER”), but upon repeated listening some kind of meaning eventually unveils. Bon Iver’s sound may have changed, taking the risk of alienating some fans, but the result is so innovative, original and masterfully pieced together that it’s impossible not to applaud the band.

Ultimately, “22, A Million” challenges and surprises the listener. It’s the musical equivalent of a cyborg with a human heart beating underneath its tampered exterior. Justin Vernon has come out of the naked woods and is lost in a modern and over-mediated city, trying to figure out what’s up and down. All of his questions and experiences are poured into and released through his music. And quite frankly, it’s marvelous.


Download: 22 (OVER S∞∞N), 33 “GOD”, 8 (circle), 00000 Million
For The Fans Of: Sufjan Stevens, Volcano Choir, Fleet Foxes, Radiohead

Release date 30.09.2016

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