Three albums across nine years as led Bon Iver to 22, A Million. Taking a step outside of the folk log-cabin the band have previously resided in, they have entered a digital world of glitchy folk-tronica. Looking at his recent collaborations, from the likes of Kanye West, James Blake and Francis & The Lights, it’s no surprise to hear what Justin Vernon has created on the new 10 track LP from the American band.
22, A Million provides superbly experimental music, functioning like a collection of sounds and sampled rarities that on the surface seem delicate but deep down are entangled within a glittering web of electronic folk complexity. Sometimes the album is soft around the edges with romantic ballads, but often also slips into moments of raw emotion and intensity. This is displayed even through the physical elements to the album in the form of glitchy font track titles and a chaos of symbols for cover art work.
The opening lead single, ’22 (OVER S∞∞N)’, begins with a repetitive hum vocal loop and sampled vocals that becomes the staple for this beautiful introductory track. Vernon’s gorgeous layered vocals float over the music and both intertwine to create a soulful and romantic vibe. ’22 (OVER S∞∞N)’ serves as a statement of what is to come with its experimental tones and formation. Yet like a thunderous explosion, ’10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄’, bursts out of the soft musical cloud giving us our first taste of the albums paralleled themes of light and dark, showing the bipolar tendencies of 22, A Million. By the time the third vocals-only track begins, listeners have already been gently guided through a complex web of sound. ‘715 – CRΣΣKS’ is a beautifully voiced-ballad with raw passion throughout with a slight likening to Bon Iver’s auto-tuned looped 2009 song, ‘Woods’.
22, A Million is sprinkled with an obvious electronica tone, but the indie-folk styles of classic Bon Iver are still present, especially on songs like ’33 “GOD”’ and ’29 #Strafford APTS’ where the soft acoustic-ness found on previous albums blossoms through. This halfway is the halfway point on the album, where things mellow out. ‘8 (circle)’ is dreamy, leading with soft horn sections that blend effortlessly with the vocals. ‘____45_____’ and ‘00000 Million’ finish off the album with two cosy tracks that ease listeners with delicate vocal arrangements and minimalistic but spacious sound.
There is a raw honesty throughout 22, A Million that is shown through lyrics and vocals and at times seems like it’s presented like a cryptic puzzle ready to be deciphered by a listener. Some songs have moments of empty silence between piano chords and vocal where as others are meticulously crafted with maximum sound filling the entirety of the musical space. There is a real balance of minimalism and maximalism throughout, something that Bon Iver has harnessed in exploring and displayed wonderfully across 22, A Million.