Bon Iver - 22, A Million

by Nathan Fidler Rating:7 Release Date:2016-09-30

Such is the aura around Bon Iver (whose actual name is Justin Vernon) that it must be an enormous pressure for him to try and live up to that sleepy juggernaut of his debut For Emma, Forever Ago. But lightning, despite the popular saying, rarely strikes twice, let alone once. The follow up, Bon Iver, was a spiritual successor, but made nowhere near the same impression on the listener. Now, having made many influential friends in the “biz” we get his third album, 22, A Million.

The obvious change for this album, and something which is going to be akin to Marmite for fans, is the electronic edge added to every track. Vocals are also more often than not twinged with sonic adjustments and vocoders, stealing the once heartbreaking sound of Vernon’s voice.

So what does this do to the music? It would be truly pathetic for an artist to try and replicate such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There will never again be the same set of circumstances for that for Vernon. So here we are, like it or not, and you have to hand it to him, he’s actually tried to do something different, but something which still plays into his canon spiritually.

That point is no clearer than on ‘715 - CRΣΣKS’, an instrument-less song, the vocals sluggish with editing and what must surely be a vocoder. It’s unnerving on first listen, uncomfortable even; where’s the beardy man in a thick plaid shirt? But repeat listens reveal that he hasn’t lost his knack for a melody, or the brief poetry which help paint pictures of half-stories. “Honey, understand that I have been left here in the reed” the accordion voice pleads.

Clearly mingling with the likes of James Blake and Kanye West has had an influence, and if you’ve followed his input on their records this album will make more sense. However, it’s easy to see how many people would distrust this new vein of creativity. You can probably take two points off the rating given to this album if you hate such electronic meddling, or add two points on if that kind of stuff really floats your boat. It comes down to whether you think Justin Vernon has balanced his new influences with his own style.

Ultimately, part of that woodsy hymnal sound is still there to be had, ‘29 #Strafford APTS’ shows this in the deft piano, guitar and string section, making it closer to his original material than anything else on the album. But that’s not to say the move he’s made is the wrong one, ‘22 (OVER Soooon)’ may seem odd at first, but you can quickly see that the roots of his melody remains, it’s simply that he’s taken a different direction to get there. 

Divisive to some, but viewed in the context of Bon Iver being a musical project - as opposed to someone who owes the world the constant regurgitation of one singular sound - you get a much sweeter narrative, one you’ll hope has more installments whenever he’s ready.

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