Is It Worth It: “22, A Million” by Bon Iver


Liz Keller

By Shaan Dahar ’18 Contributor

Winter, forests, and a lonely cabin in the middle of it; that’s what comes to mind when the first strums on Bon Iver’s first record “For Emma, Forever Ago” vibrated from the speakers back in 2007. The slow rise of the record’s sales provided Justin Vernon, leader of the project, with a wide audience who graciously ate up the 2011 Grammy-Award-Winning follow up “Bon Iver, Bon Iver.” This new-found fame wasn’t so easy to accommodate for Justin, causing him to put the project on hold for half a decade. In this time, the singer-songwriter worked as producer and collaborator on many projects, seeming to take a new artistic direction entirely, causing many to worry that the personal relationship would be lost to a new manufactured Bon Iver before the announcement of “22, A Million.”

The 5 years spent collaborating with artists like Kanye West, James Blake, and Jay Z quite clearly affected Bon Iver’s return, and it is present throughout. “22 (OVER S∞∞N) and “10 d E A T h b R E a s t ⚄ ⚄” both rely on synths, manipulated vocals, and sampling. The intimate, forest flair of previous records is not lost here, however. It is merely presented differently, as songs like “29 #Strafford APTS” show: Justin’s trademark lush acoustic guitar sits at the core, but his voice and electronic blips drive the track forward.  “21 M♢♢N WATER” recalls the open, divine-like atmosphere of “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” with light strings being built upon with rather frantic sampling and a saxophone to grand proportions, and then giving way to a lone, disjointed saxophone sample repeating.

However, the biggest risks seem to be the biggest payoffs on “22, A Million.”: “715 – CRΣΣKS” is devoid of any instrumentation as the spotlight is placed on Justin’s vocally manipulated, vague lyrics: “Low moon don the yellow road/I remember something.” And single “33 “GOD”” illustrates some of the heaviest influence from his work on Yeezus and other projects as piano and drums back up his obscured vocals, samples of Jim Ed Brown and Paolo Nutini surrounding him from every side. It recalls Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool” earlier this year with its use of strings and synths.

In an unexpected twist, album highlight “8 (circle),” sees Vernon conjure up a slow jam with calm synths and horns building to a cathartic Vernon choir as he croons “Carry up love along unfettered time/Now Mona/Haven’t I locked up my failure.” The choir rises to an electronic, horn-filled conclusion that best describes this record: A balance of old and new, of modulated vocals with crackly vinyl samples, of confusion and familiarity, of abrasive drums with beautiful melodies. It’s a look into the mind of an artist who’s on the edge of chaos and tranquility, and it may very well be one of the best indie records of the year.