Bold, ethereal, radical and candid, 22, A Million is Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver’s) most dynamic album to date. The album’s 10 recordings are a sacred collection of moments from self-reflection, in which the album manages to harmonise balance between feverish emotions with undercurrents of gnosis. Through paradox of duality it is complex, bold, inflated and cathartic, and yet surprisingly also honest, subtle and intense. Sonically, it is incredibly diverse “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ? ?” apparently being the first track that was finished on the album. It sets an urgent tone with pulsing percussion and swirling saxophone, sputtering through explosiveness, whereas “21 M??N WATER” is philosophical and meditative, it begins with long droning saxophones seamlessly blending into each other, and ends as electronic elements sound like an obscuring of thought and hazing of key. In contrast “00000 Million” is incredibly hymn-like in its chord progressions.
“715 – CR??KS” an achingly beautiful acapella many people will note begins the same as his 2011 vocoded collaboration with James Blake “Fall Creek Boys Choir.” Justin Vernon has worked on a number of collaborations between releasing under the Bon Iver guise, which have no doubt helped to form such a holistic album. His recent collaborations with Kanye West and Francis and the Lights (Friends) sounding stamped with elements of his sound and influence. “When you’re with somebody, they can show you how to be yourself more,” Vernon said about working with other artists. “It lengthens you. It makes you stand up taller and makes you have to kind of prove yourself” in which the confidence sounds as though it has been brought to 22, A Million.
?With two decades of searching for meaning in a journey of self-understanding and soul searching. On first listens 22, A Million resonates through a reflective and detached sense of loneliness as well as a general sense of being lost. The album is very much about personal unearthing, contextual moments of which can be interpreted either with weighty meaning or shear coincidence in passing. 22, A Million sees Vernon use music as a sonic exploration of self-discovery, trying new experimental and electronic ideas, delving beyond previous borders, whilst still retaining familiarity and recognisable elements from his previous albums. Whereas previous albums For Emma, Forever Ago and Bon Iver seem to explore inhabitation of physical space or association of people with home, security and belonging 22, A Million embodies being slowly but loudly released from these deep connections, the newfound uncertainty and perhaps inner realisation of this frustration, putting faith in music as a constant.
22, A Million is out September 30th
Words by Jess Bartlet