Review of the latest album “22, A Million” from indie-darling Bon Iver
By Carter Bagley
Bon Iver is one of the most critically-acclaimed music artists of the decade or so but he still hasn’t really broken into mainstream success. He won the Grammy for best new artist in 2012 and that caused the whole “Who’s Bonny Bear” trend on Twitter who had no clue who he was and couldn’t pronounce his unique stage name. The guy behind the act is Justin Vernon and he famously got his start from making his excellent debut album “For Emma, Forever Ago” while he was secluded in a cabin in the deep woods of Wisconsin. Now 9 years later he’s released his brand new album “22, A Million” and immediately from the first few seconds of the opening track 22 (OVER S∞∞N) it’s clear this new project here is very different and unique compared to his other stuff. It uses distorted production sounds and altered voices that are weird at first but when combined with Vernon’s high pitched powerful vocals it really works especially with all the production tricks. It builds and it’s a slow burn of a song but the more I’ve listened to it the more I enjoy it. It was the lead single from the album which was kind of weird for me but maybe he just wanted everyone to know that this was going to be different than his other work. The second song “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” picks up where the previous song left off which is what this record does a lot as the songs kind of blend together. It’s much more energetic and despite having a song title that’s a bitch to type in a review it’s a very powerful and great song. The song titles actually annoy me quite a bit and they come off as very pretentious and I don’t know what I’m supposed to call the song if I say it aloud…Nonetheless it’s a good song. “715 – CRΣΣKS” is the third song and Vernon’s lead vocals themselves have a distorted sound to them and in a lot of ways it sounds like something from his previous albums just with drastically different production which is kind of cool. The lyrics are well written and his vocals are powerful and moving and even though you can’t pick up on everything he says it still hits you. Track 4 “33 “GOD”” might be one of my favorite songs on the album and I was a little indifferent to it at first but it’s grown on me quite a bit upon multiple listens. It’s confident and inspirational all while having a strong energy to it and it even has the heavily distorted vocals like track 1 had. A definite highlight though is the softer “29 #Strafford APTS” which sounds a lot like his older music and the instrumentation with the soft guitar and the subtle instruments in the background are beautiful combined with Justin Vernon’s lovely raw vocals in the chorus. It’s a fantastic song and one I didn’t see coming in terms of how much I ended up enjoying it. Track 6 fittingly titled “666 ʇ” and it’s not as good as previous songs and it has the same kind of feel and doesn’t really introduce anything new as it could easily be swapped out with some of the other songs. It’s definitely not bad however just slightly repetitive. The next song “21 M♢♢N WATER” has a slow almost surreal intro that leads into his slow and dreamlike vocals that this album showcases so strongly. The background gets annoying at a certain part as it’s very distorted almost in a radio frequency kind of way that tries too hard to be different instead of just quality. After about a minute of the song I found myself actually getting annoyed with the song and I couldn’t ever see myself clicking on that song alone. “8 (circle)” starts off like this too but after a few moments it loses that sound and evolves into a very impressive song with lovely lyrics and a groovy surrealist sound to it and the background music has a little bit of a minimalist quality to it. It definitely brings the album back up to the quality that the first five songs were and easily fits among them as an impressively great song. The ninth song “____45_____” is another annoyingly titled song and there’s not much to it and features horns that could be really fantastic if they weren’t so heavily distorted and produced and this is an example where overproduction can negatively affect a song. The lyrics and his voice along with the backing vocals are enough to redeem the song though and it turns out to be a song I rather enjoyed. Finally the song that concludes the record is “00000 Million” which is a beautiful and powerful song and Vernon’s layered vocals are produced to perfect and the simple piano almost gives it a gospel sound but the lyrics and the rawness to it keep it from being preachy which is a great thing. It’s a phenomenal way to conclude the album and it definitely returns the record to the greatness that Side 1 introduced. Overall this album wasn’t quite as good as some of the albums Bon Iver has given us before but it is still a beautiful, powerful and melancholy collection of music and within a few years I think “22, A Million” could develop a classic status.
Highlights: 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄, 715 – CRΣΣKS, 33 “GOD”, 29 #Strafford APTS, 8 (circle), 00000 Million
Lowlights Lesser Highlights: 21 M♢♢N WATER