Arts & Culture

Album Review: 22, A Million

Bon Iver
22, A Million
Jagjaguwar
http://boniver.org/

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Bon Iver has always been about more than making music for Justin Vernon. From his debut, where he macerated his feelings towards breakup and mediocrity with his own brand of bleakness, to his critically acclaimed follow-up, Vernon has become well-versed in wrestling with personal demons. Once more on 22, A Million, it’s obvious Vernon is most comfortable confronting life’s uncertainties. From the manipulated croon of the album’s first line “It might be over soon,” to the courting of religious imagery (see “33 GOD,” “666 ʇ,” and the album artwork), we get into Vernon’s mind through the questions he asks in each song. But be warned, this is not an album you and your buddies can sit around and listen to casually over beers. Approach 22, A Million not with the goal of finding your new pump-up song, but for an audio experiment with a helluvalot of introspective ruminating. The themes are deep and heartfelt, and wholly reflect the deepest, darkest queries of our existence. You know, typical Bon Iver. – Gordy Brown



Initially, I found this album to be as impenetrable as the titles on the tracklist. Among other effects, the voice modulation and pitch shifts were especially jarring — but over several listens they crept their way into the echo chambers of my heart like seductive sirens and infectious earworms. It’s a great album to play in the dark with your eyes closed, drifting in and out of daydreams. However, the best place to experience 22, A Million is outdoors — anywhere with changing scenery, such as during a road trip or commute. I only started to “get” this album while driving down the Henday, as the rich textures and nuances of the arrangements became more apparent. Exploring the dense intricacies of 22, A Million is akin to dating an extremely reserved 22-year old introvert, who gradually lets you into their world; but just be patient, this one’s definitely a keeper. – Jonah Angeles



Justin Vernon is well-versed in all manner of genres. He’s worked with the likes of fellow indie behemoth Phil Cook, composer Bryce Dessner, avant-garde saxophonist Colin Stetson, and hip-hop superstar Kanye West. Like West’s Yeezus (which Vernon was heavily featured on), 22, A Million is full of “name-drops” — albeit via melodies and instruments rather than names and phrases. Whereas milo, or Kanye, or Shad might reference Schopenhauer, or Will Ferrell, or Otis Nixon respectively, the latest Bon Iver offering cites Mahalia Jackson, Bruce Hornsby, Justin Vernon’s earlier solo work, and, as in “715 – CR∑∑KS,” Imogen Heap. Some of Vernon’s more recent features have involved post-dubstep vocal wizard James Blake, but there’s something so Atlantic about those songs that defies comparison to “CR∑∑KS” as much as it invites it. Heap’s “Hide And Seek” is a much closer cousin; both are built lyrically around the presence and rejection of confusion-birthed comfort and musically around dancing, vocoder-soaked melodies that evoke urgency and movement despite standing completely still.  – Craig Hall



If you want to find yourself ugly-crying on a SUB couch at 2 p.m., with a textbook in your lap, just listen to 22, A Million. The aural catharsis of Vernon’s music is unique to him, and whether it be with Bon Iver or other projects such as Volcano Choir, the emotion he communicates is understood by the listener like it’s first hand. If the song is about pain, it stabs you in the back, if the song is about heartbreak, it rips out your chest. 22, A Million does the same thing that the rest of his music does; it makes you — yes you, you numb sonofabitch — feel something. Bon Iver’s combination of dissonance amidst euphony as well as continuity from his other music — just listen to “Woods” and “715 – CR∑∑KS” back to back — is exactly what you need at 2pm in SUB on a Friday. So go for it, you cold tough guy. Man up. Listen to 22, A Million, and ugly-cry. We all need to sometime. – Julia Sorensen



While the album’s first track “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” initially intrigued me, it was “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” that fully captured my attention — it’s Bon Iver gone industrial. The pulsing distortion of the heavily modulated drums are the perfect backbone to such an out-there track. Yet beneath that noisy surface is the emotional intimacy that originally made me fall in love with For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon’s vocals are mystifying, despite the fact that when reading the lyrics, they were nonsensical to me. Listening provides an entirely different experience as Vernon’s delivery and heavily manipulated production of his vocals make the cluster of seemingly meaningless words make sense. Vernon’s angelic voice, the aforementioned distorted drums, and those beautiful horns near the end of the song fit perfectly when they shouldn’t. Just like the lyrics, everything just falls into place in this song. – Sam Beetham


 

With each listen, I find myself tuning out alarmingly fast. Although the two opening tracks  teased a dynamic and engaging record, the rest of the songs don’t seem to follow through on that promise. The songwriting is top-notch, but the production doesn’t hold my attention. It says a lot that they chose to debut this album live, because the intricate layers of instrumentation are craving the kind of spaciousness they aren’t given in the mix. Instead, they’re compressed under endless, indulgent layers of processed vocals, which rapidly overstay their welcome. When Vernon cools it on the vocoder and gives the sounds and structures room to breathe, the album shines. But, for the most part, it feels more like wasted potential than a magnum opus. That said, I’m not going to pretend to have an album that took five years to make pegged after a half-dozen listens.  – Stefan Makowski



I was immediately drawn to the song “21 M◊◊N WATER” — probably because of the astral connotations or some hippie-dippie shit like that. Maybe I just liked how “moon water” sounded rolling around in my head; it brings a tranquil image, and in part the song follows through on that concept.  “21 M◊◊N WATER,” with wobbly, ethereal chords, Vernon’s soothing vocals, and just the right amount of off-the-wall soul, is exactly the kind of tune for driving late at night on the highway.
And then the screeching starts.  Subtly at first, then a suggestion of a blare at the two-minute mark, before morphing into a fire alarm that, with distant screams and dissonant wayward saxophone and electronica-steeped trills, is uniquely unsettling. It’s a brief portion of the song, but it’s so different from the first couple of minutes that while the change isn’t especially off-putting, it’s a little jarring to say the least. The track takes you from relaxation to anxiety in under three minutes. It’s a wild ride. – Victoria Chiu

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