Bon Iver - 22, A Million
In 2006, after spending half a year in bed with mononucleosis, going through a breakup, and splitting up with his band, Justin Vernon loaded up his car and drove through the night back to his family’s cabin in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. What followed is one of the better known stories of 2000’s indie music; seemingly out of nowhere, For Emma Forever Ago rocketed through the blogosphere and into Grammy’s-that-he-didn’t-want-land: Vernon had found his sound.
Rather, Vernon had found a sound. Perhaps the same restless spirit that moved him to load his sedan and peace out of Raleigh in the middle of night has guided his post Emma career. His collaborations with Kanye introduced a tuned, filtered Vernon and Bon Iver brought synths, drum machines, and sax solos into the folk world. Like Bob Dylan walking on stage with an electric guitar to an appalled crowd at the Newport Folk Fest; 22, A Million’s samples, blips and harsh autotune aggressively expand the sonic boundaries of folk. But unlike poor Bobby D, Vernon’s met not with boos but with a fuck yeah, thanks dog.
22, A Million is a fascinating album, restless and frantic while retaining a pensiveness and intimacy that make it weird to listen to in a car full of people. ‘22(Over Soon)’ opens with a pitched up mantra; ‘it might be over soon, soon, soon,’ it’s an optimistic moment and a refrain America needs right now, but the bulk of the album lives in nostalgic emotional twilight. I can hardly ever tell what Vernon’s saying but it doesn’t matter, his emotions are communicated through atmosphere and texture, down to the opaque falsetto. ‘715(Creeks)’ is an autotuned acapella that opens with the lines ‘down along the creek, I remember something,’ and paints a robo-pastoral scene of low moons on yellow roads and herons, bridged with the refrain ‘toiling with your blood,’ that brings a David Lynchian strangeness to the environment.
Elsewhere, the album is punctuated with fuzzy drum machines, descending synths a la Yeezus, and distant horn stabs dotted with Vernon’s trademark banjo plucks and warpy piano. The album culminates with ‘00000 Million,’ a Neil Young-esque ballad with vintage Bon Iver stacked harmonies and just enough sampler bleeps in the arrangement to bring it into a new era.
The short songs and abrupt arrangements make for an album that moves in scenes. It's the ideal companion for a long solo drive, preferably under a low yellow moon and wallowing in nostalgia. Memory is the thread connecting the folk genre and 22, A Million feels like staring back at your childhood through a telescope from the outer realms of space.
by Aaron Miller