22, A Million – Bon Iver

Bon Iver. Bon Iver?

“C’mon Skinny Love, what happened here?” Does this ring a bell? Now that we are on the same page, the kings of auto-tune are back after 5 wrecking years of silence with a perfectly produced, alternative-electronic LP, on September 30th 2016.

bon iver
Justin Vernon

Just to have a little background: Bon Iver is a band from Wisconsin, that started out with a heart-breaking album, “For Emma, Forever Ago”, then going on with “Bon Iver”, yes, it is self-titled, and the both of them are anticipated by a short EP, “Blood Bank”.

Bon Iver always had this precise and well pre-contemplated aesthetic, they appear very indie-folk, with a lot of skills in the auto-tune field, transforming their songs, starting mostly from the sophomore album which is the self-titled, into actual alternative masterpieces.

This third album though, shocked and shook the whole Bon Iver world, because it is not something anyone would have expected by artists like them. Starting from the titles and the cover of the material copy, which leave the listener with the benefit of the doubt from a band who had just risen from the dead. This record, was able to establish the band in a limbo between more genres, giving illusions and expectations that will be crushed from a song and another. What is Bon Iver?

The choices of the titles and lyrics videos are to attribute to Eric Timothy Carlson, an artist from Brooklyn who has already helped Justin Vernon (Bon Iver’s singer) with other productions. He stated in various interviews that while the band was recording the album, he had done sketches inspired to the sounds he heard, and also, that the titles at the beginning of the process were just multiple numbers. He said “Between the numerology, the metaphysical/humanist nature of the questions in 22, a Million, and the accumulation of physical material and symbolism around the music – it became apparent that the final artwork was to be something of a tome. A book of love, Jung’s Red Book. A Lost Religion. The Rosetta Stone. Sagan’s Golden Record. Something to invest some serious time and mind in.

22 cover
The album’s cover and the titles of the songs.

This album could feel very different from the previous two, but in some way if we connect the dots, the final result brings always on Bon Iver’s initial path.

The record is a continuous and tortuous evolution of the artist’s feelings and artistic character. The first track, 22 (OVER S∞∞N), echoes a scratched record full of harmonies and ethereal lyrics, something incomplete but complete at the same time, though it invites very politely the listener to continue this journey with Justin Vernon’s mind as final destination.

The themes brought up in this record are love, religion, death, pain… all in Bon Iver’s style, even though they got the inspiration from others, such as Stevie Nicks, and the great Frank Ocean.

The third track, 715 – CR∑∑KS, is like a punch in the stomach, composed not by music, but by nothing but Mr. Vernon’s electronic, modified, distorted, auto-tuned, deep and vibrating voice. He is begging, after a fight, for his lover to come back, “Goddamn turn around, you’re my A Team”. Rage is peeling out the pores, attaching to your skin, then caressing it like a lullaby mixed up with total and utter desperation. The synths Vernon uses in this song usually could also kill the spirit, but here, they make the song great, and for the record, I would have turned around far before the last stretched melancholic sentence.

22, A Million is a voyage into the soul of pain, until you can’t take it anymore, and song by song it becomes more intense, with a pause just at the end of the last song, 00000 Million, that with the first one mixed up, gave the name to the album (22 – Million).

“[…] It became apparent that the final artwork was to be something of a tome. […] Something to invest some serious time and mind in.”

Justin Vernon is famous, even if not enough to be known by as many people as he deserves, for his subtle and oblique lyricism. Throughout the entire record, there are roller coasters of words, which reach the final epitome of mystery in the last song (00000 Million), the high peak of this encore; yes, encore, because, even though they don’t do encores during their shows, it seems like the music goes in and out from the LP constantly. The last song is always an indicative and vitally important point in every musical production, because as the first one, it signs a check-point, the end or the beginning of emotions, like a light switch, “But I watched them off, to the light of the morning, marking the slope, slung low in the highlands”, it is sung in the last track.

Concepts such as Gnosis, Modus, Shame, symbolize today’s world, and maybe, just maybe, they let us peek inside Justin Vernon’s mind, since everything until now has been an illusion.

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