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Justin Vernon is a mastermind of folk. His work is critically acclaimed and is always a refreshing listen. Bon Iver, featuring Vernon and his band, is one of Vernon's most acclaimed projects, and their third album 22, A Million has been a long time coming for many fans.
Through three albums, Bon Iver has evolved quite a bit from their acoustic folk debut recorded in an isolated Wisconsin cabin. 22, A Million is a soulful, experimental record that treads away from the indie folk nature of his music and adds a more artistic, if not a bit polarizing. The droning synths of intro track '22 (OVER S∞∞N)' - yes, the track titles are batshit crazy on this album - mesh in a sweet and oddly strange way with the brass and bright strings in the guitar. While it misses the beautiful string outro found on the single release (see our review for that here), it still has that soulful flair.
Also released on the double single was '10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄', featuring more distorted electronica and creating a feeling for subtle chaos rather than a restrained beauty like the former track. In the same fashion as '22', the track is also missing an extended outro that brought back a sense of clarity on the single version. Right out of the chaotic demeanor of '10' comes the beautiful harmonies of a cappella track '715 - CR∑∑KS'. Vernon's pure vocals dance a captivating dance with the thousands of vocoded vocal lines that make up the track. This album generates its momentum from the soft moments, making something out of nothing in a beautifully simple manner.
This album isn't a full experiment; there are still traces of his folk roots throughout the album. '29 #Strafford APTS' has a true folky sound, piano and acoustic guitar swimming together in sweet melodies. The song does eventually build up quietly with the album's various methods of experimentation, ending with glitched out vocals as pure sing above bright guitars. '33 "GOD"' also has traces of his beginnings, focussing primarily on the piano track than the various elements going on around it. The album ends as softly as it began, but in a different fashion. '00000 Million' is a pure track with no gimmick. It's just Vernon singing over a reverberating piano track in a very soulful way, as if to send the album off on a spiritual note.
The main portion of the record is, however, quite experimental and odd. Listen to the pulsing, robotic synth of '666 ʇ' as it counts down continuously over the song's play time. The glitchy guitars act as a compliment to the gentle electronics, Vernon's vocals singing falsetto as brass and string punches support his voice. The lyrics are pretty submissive to the tire of life. It's very accepting of an empty feeling, this meaning acting as a dark disposition to the seemingly warm song. '8 (circle)' features smooth choirs and flowing brass sections to make it a beautiful, soulful experience.
Bon Iver's new album may not be a departure from their sophomore record's sound, but it's certainly a retrospective effort all the same. 22, A Million offers a soulful, provocative experimental indie folk experience that no one else can really do like them. It's unique in its emptiness, as if James Black picked up a guitar and moved out to the midwest. The album's mystery is just as beautiful as its sound, and for that it should hold its ground confidently, regardless of progression. Bon Iver can do anything they want and still make something amazing out of nothing.
Favorite Tracks: 715 - CR∑∑KS, 22 (OVER S∞∞N), 00000 Million, 29 #Strafford APTS
Least Favorite Track: 21 M◊◊N WATER
Rating: 84 / 100