Album Review: 22, A Million – Bon Iver

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Very few musicians can romanticize isolation, solitude, and loneliness the same way that Justin Vernon can. His first two albums explored these themes extensively and undoubtedly inspired countless listeners to long for a similar kind of experience in a snowy log cabin in the Midwest (it also inspired people to adopt a very distinct stereotype, but that’s a conversation for another day). After snatching 2 Grammys for his self-titled second album, Vernon seemed content to retire Bon Iver for the time, instead focusing on side projects (Volcano Choir, Shouting Matches) and collaborations with other musicians (Kanye West, James Blake, and Jason Feathers). After five years, Vernon has returned to Bon Iver to give us “22, A Million,” an abstract, glitchy, and cryptic album.

At first blush, “22, A Million,” with all its inorganic sounds and vocals, feels like an immediate departure from Bon Iver’s previous efforts. However, underneath Vernon’s auto-tuned vocals and cryptic lyrics lies an album that feels distinctly like a Bon Iver album. It’s the vocal work, with Vernon’s signature falsetto delivering those familiar melodies and harmonies, like on “29 #Strafford APTS”; it’s the sparse instrumentation on tracks like “715 – CRΣΣKS” and “21 M♢♢N WATER”. It’s all these things that make “22, A Million” feel like a culmination of everything Vernon has done; “For Emma, Forever Ago,” “Woods EP,” “Bon Iver,” and all his side projects, they’re all here in some way or another.

The lyrics on this album are something else entirely. With each Bon Iver release, Vernon’s lyrics have grown more and more vague. However, it’s not vague in the sense that everyone can relate to them because they’re so shallow (looking at you, Mumford and Sons). Rather, the ambiguous and sometimes nonsensical lyrics add to the depth of the album; to quote the user SowingSeason on sputnikmusic.com, “they mean nothing and everything all at the same time” (1). The fractured and indefinable phrases scattered in the lyrics are a reflection of the instrumentals, and of the album as a whole.

“22, A Million” represents the growth of Vernon, both as a musician, and as a person. The “22” in the album title represents himself, while the “million” represents some “great elusive thing” (2). The fact that the songs bookending the album have “22” and “a million” in the titles show that the songs in between chronicle Vernon’s attempts of searching for this intangible thing, a higher power of some sort. By the end, he’s still not sure of where he’s going or where he’s supposed to be looking. I’m sure of one thing; I’m thankful to make the journey with him.


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RATING: 8/10

FAVORITE TRACKS: 22 (OVER S∞∞N), 33 “GOD,” 29 #Strafford APTS, 666 ʇ, 8 (circle)

LEAST FAVORITE TRACKS: none

 

(1): taken from SowingSeason’s review of the album on SputnikMusic: http://www.sputnikmusic.com/review/71831/Bon-Iver-22-A-Million/
(2): taken from a New York Times interview with Justin Vernon: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/25/arts/music/bon-iver-justin-vernon-22-a-million-interview.html?_r=0
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  1. Top Ten Albums of 2016 | paul jacobson - February 15, 2017

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