Bon Iver "22, A Million"

If you’ve never had the experience of crawling into someone’s head, to sit in a far corner of their cortex and quietly observe - your chance has arrived. 22, A Million is part conceptual art, part musical experiment, part soul-baring analysis. It’s a mash-up of auto-tuning, acoustic ruminations, falsetto acrobatics, and samples ranging from Mahalia Jackson to Stevie Nicks.

When Justin Vernon won Best New Artist at the 2012 Grammy Awards it was a surprise to the masses of music consumers who had never been exposed to his eccentric, insular style of indie-folk. He also won the Grammy for Best Alternative Album for Bon Iver, Bon Iver. In comparison to this new release, that work feels like a toe-tip into the baby pool of alternative music. 22, A Million is a dive into the deep end. Before heading into the studio Vernon was struggling with depression and anxiety. Those emotions are exhibited in bold fashion. Vernon makes no attempt to write linear lyrics, instead laying out a conceptual palate for stream of consciousness ideas and images. Profanity flares up, anger, despair, and disappointment battle for priority. It’s as if you’ve crept into his cranium to become witness to the electronic connections.

Musically Vernon keeps mostly a tempered tone that whisks between electronic blips and pings, and acoustic interludes. Piano, saxophone, guitar merge in improvisational patterns that vaguely link one element to another. His voice pushes through gauzy auto tuning, or flies so high in falsetto that, like Icarus, he seems sure to fall to earth. Occasionally his voice emerges naked and all the more vulnerable for it. He uses samples from unusual sources, some well-known, as the above mentioned Jackson and Nicks, or the lesser known Paolo Nutini and Sharon Van Etten.

Vernon works with artist Timothy Carlson on the album’s artwork. Songs are often titled with symbols and numbers. 22, in particular, represents the theme of the album. The number is significant to Vernon although it’s not exactly clear why. Then again, there are many things in life that take on personal significant that cannot be explained. The point is – here is the music. Make of it what you will.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)

 

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