Bon Iver – 22 a million Review

Remember Skinny Love? Yeah, those were the days; when modern folk music could pass as a few strums on an acoustic and flurries of beautiful harmonies. For Bon Iver, the traditional approach seems to be too outdated, exemplified in the new album 22, A Million, in which the otherworldly distortions of pretty much everything is the new norm.

From the superfluous use of symbols in the titles to the meanings so deep you could swim in them, the album is full of exciting details. It masquerades itself in techno galore, but when you strip away its warped complexities, there is an underlying anxiety that never quite disappears. This is evident from even the first song: the repetition of “it might be over soon” in 22 (Over S∞∞n) makes you think “soon” could be the conclusion of the track. 713 – CR∑∑KS’s vocals lurch forward then apologetically retreat, as if out of fear of retaliation. Vernon muses rich, profound thoughts throughout the album, mostly surrounding his faith. The album’s final song 00000 Million embodies this in its gospel notions, while 33 GOD, despite the electronic fizzes, feels undeniably, gorgeously raw in its Psalm-like format. In an album that is so instrumentally powerful, there’s a sense that the man behind the mic is in fact very vulnerable. The disfigured harmonies of 713 – CR∑∑KS wrap around Vernon’s natural vocals like ghosts. The album is as experimental as a mad scientist’s wildest dreams, but, for example ___45____ seems a little messy, and 21 M◊◊N WATER pushes bewildering bursts of all sorts of electronic surges: it’s like the aliens are finally taking over. But I like this: Vernon’s emotions are alive in the chaos of it all. Isn’t that what an album is meant to be? Both lyrics and instruments illustrating what the artist feels at that time, making it so incredibly personal but also something the listeners can both relate to and appreciate in its cleverness.

Even though Justin Vernon has dived into a more electronic approach here, there are reflections of the more simplistic past of Bon Iver. 22 #Strafford APTS has taken it back to basics, with mellow acoustic and piano chimes introducing the sweet marriage of Vernon and a female vocalist’s voices. The subtle string section that backs the song makes for an effortlessly lovely number. There is, however, a gush of distortion as Vernon’s voice swells to the high-notes towards the end of the track that makes me squint; it doesn’t quite sit right with the rest of the song. 10 d E A T h b R E a s T □□ is fairly distinct from the rest of the album, with a percussion opening sequence that calls Glass Animals’ Life Itself to mind, and a distorted bass that wouldn’t be out of place on any pop record, but also melts perfectly into this avant-garde chant. Some recent albums have tried to be so innovative, the tracks become repetitive in an effort to fully exhibit the style, but 22, A Million hasn’t: both lyrically and instrumentally, each eclectic song demonstrates a different take on this new electronic attack.

22, A Million both is and isn’t what I expected. Of course, I was ready for the moving trance that encapsulates each song, but I wasn’t ready for what the songs would sound like at all. And the answer is: really, really good.

Bon Iver – 22, A Million: 9/10

By Eleanor Chivers

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