Monday, May 16, 2022
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22, A Million by Bon Iver


Bon Iver’s 22, A Million upon first listen sounded completely alien – I certainly had not expected this level of experimentation. However, as the clarity of repeated listens began to peek through the fog, it all seemed familiar.

On this record, Justin Vernon employs various means of dissociation and misdirection. It’s hard to miss the first example, as the first track, “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” prominently displays Vernon’s intermittent use of glitchy cutouts. Pitch-shifted and vocoded vocals abound, but juxtaposed next to often sparse – sometimes even bare – composition, Vernon’s words retain their humanity.

Cryptic song titles prepare the listener for the equally cryptic lyrics displayed therein, and the outwardly drastic disparity between this and Vernon’s previous work offers a suitable vessel for such experimentation. However, the lyrics retain with care their honesty, as is apparent in “8 (circle)”:

“Too much for me to pick up, no
Not sure what forgiveness is
We’ve galvanized at the squall of it all
I can leave behind the harbor…”

Vernon is essentially making the same folk music he always was as 22, A Million typically stays within a familiar song structure. The distinction is in his deliberate effort to strip down his compositions, often substituting his traditional instruments for electronic elements.

The opening track, “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” demonstrates the artful juxtaposition of past and present as strings saunter through its final moments, only to be abruptly truncated by the loud and abrasive electronic drums of “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠.” The payoff of this experimentation is clear during “715 – CRΣΣKS,” in which Vernon lands emotional blows triumphantly with honest and bare vocal delivery, his voice accompanied only by a vocoder.

Strangely enough, the emotion is not lost in translation; rather, it is multiplied. The fruit of Justin Vernon’s four-year labor is his most intricate and nuanced work yet.

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