For those who fell immediately in love with Bon Iver’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago in 2007, you might be rubbing your heads as to whether or not this is the same guy who has recently been releasing new songs under the same moniker.
22, A Million is the third record from Bon Iver, due to drop at the end of this month. From what we have heard so far, it’s a very different direction to both the debut album or the follow up self titled album for that matter. Justin Vernon has steered away (or more progressed as a musician) from his well known acoustic mountain cabin sounds to a more electro, experimental drum beat synth sound. He undoubtedly is the same guy making the music though and the beauty of Justin Vernon is his ability to keep fans tuned in as he grows.
In 2006 Vernon shacked up in his father’s cabin in the woods in Wisconsin for a winter season. Some believe this was his preparation for a zombie apocalypse, because why else would you head out alone to a cabin by yourself? In his account however it was actually after a breakup with a girlfriend and a bout of mononucleosis hepatitis that he decided to make the move for some alone time and finding himself alone in the woods, eating, drinking and watching DVDs, the idea for some songs came to him and he set up a small self recording studio. The songs he came to record became some of the most beautiful, intimate and praised songs of the late 2000’s. So how do you follow that?
He formed a band and after some tours and a break, Vernon remodelled a veterinary clinic and built his own recording studio in a huge room that used to house a pool. Vernon and the band then recorded the second self titled album which was just as well received as the first. Obviously the second album screamed growth when Bon Iver had gone from a one man show on the first album to a full fledged band on the second. Vernon had a clearly different approach on the second album to the first. He experimented more with sounds rather than just sitting down with a guitar to write a “folky” song. The result, it’s more expansive, more intense and less about loss and more of a landscape album. It’s impressionistic and more sophisticated. The album gives you a sense of uncertainty and confusion, evident in the lyrical mishmash that doesn't make much sense when reading but listening to it all, you can feel every emotion evoked by the narrator and you try really hard to connect on his level as he invites you to see what he sees. Bon Iver, Bon Iver (which is how Vernon has suggested it should be read) won a bunch of awards including some Grammys for best new artist and best alternative record in 2012.
So what about 22, A Million...what should we expect? From what Bon Iver has teased us with in live shows and single releases over the last 2 years, this third album is going to be synths, auto tuning and horn filled. His band mate Trever Hagen published a great essay on the album that is well worth a read and can be found here.
But what does Vernon have to say himself? He described it recently in a press conference he held at his Eaux Claire festival saying,
“I think it’s that thing of wanting to bash things apart a little bit and break through some stuff. And I needed it to sound a little radical to feel good about putting something out in the world. For me, it’s not embarrassing, but the old records are of this kind of sad nature—I was healing myself through that stuff. Being sad about something is okay. And then wallowing in it, circling though the same cycles emotionally just feels boring. For this one, there’s still some dark stuff and whatever, but I think cracking things, making things that are bombastic and exciting and also new, and mashing things together, and explosiveness and shouting more, I think that was the zone. I think shouting. Whispering was maybe the thing before. But this time—[hits his keyboard and makes a loud robot sound]”
All Vernon's feeds thus far on social media have been long confusing song titles, symbols and graphics that don’t seem to make sense to the mere mortal eye but I think the more we can delve into his album the more we will understand. I would honestly love if he pulled a Beyonce/Frank Ocean and dropped a visual album to accompany the music because I think this is going to be the kind of stuff we will want to get lost in.
01 22 (OVER S∞∞N)
02 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠
03 715 - CRΣΣKS
04 33 “GOD”
05 29 #Strafford APTS
06 666 ʇ
07 21 M♢♢N WATER
08 8 (circle)
10 00000 Million