Bon Iver released its third full-length album “22, A Million” on September 30. The band, led by frontman Justin Vernon, spent a hiatus creating a new, intrinsically moving electronic sound. “22, A Million” veers away from his previously acoustic driven, folk-nature and instead heads in a more haunting, ambiguous state of questioning.
Here are four ways to prepare yourself as you listen to Bon Iver’s moving sonic masterpiece.
1. Expect the Unexpected
If you’re expecting to hear songs that are reminiscent of Justin Vernon’s classic folkish vocals heard in song’s such as the heavily romantic “Skinny Love” or “Holocene,” you’ll be mistaken. Bon Iver has moved in a much different direction that was only hinted at in its previous two albums, “For Emma, Forever Ago” (2007) and “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” (2011).
It’s interesting how listeners expect a particular sound from an artist, and are either disappointed or surprised by the new music style on his or her latest release. Bon Iver takes a giant shift in the sound and style that previously earned the band three Grammy’s (Best New Artist 2012, Best Alternative Album 2012, Record of the Year 2012). Instead, Bon Iver uses “22, A Million” to surprise its listeners with songs that arise questions, create complications, and emotionally resonate simultaneously within the listener. Bon Iver lets go of its well-known sound and embraces the manipulation of vocals through the use of a Prismizer, creating a haunting, intentionally uneasy effect in most, if not all, of the tracks on the album.
2. Play the Numbers Game
Each varying track on the album is titled with a different number, one that is important to Justin Vernon. This seems like a very odd artistic choice, but Justin Vernon uses numbers and symbols to further the music and ideas behind each song. It’s refreshing as a listener to pick up on the hidden messages between each song on the album.
For example, the eighth track on the album is titled “8 (Circle)” alluding to how two circles next to each other form the number 8. The sixth track on the album is titled “666 ʇ” referencing ideas of evilness, while the following track titled “21 M♢♢N WATER” refers to the multiplication of 7×3 which implies how 777 is consider “God’s number” in Christianity. Each of 10 songs on the album holds numerical hidden meanings, leaving it up to the listener to discover the intended purpose.
3. Take Note of the Influences
In Bon Iver’s previous two albums, Vernon only hints at the electronic, auto-tune style he embraces in his most recent release. This album stands out amongst its predecessors, but it pulls from other iconic artists of our time. It’s no surprise that none other than THE infamous Kanye West has been a huge advocate and fan of Bon Iver, once stating to BBC Radio 1 how Justin Vernon is his “favorite living artist.” When listening to “22, A Million” you can definitely hear the influences of both Kanye West as well as Frank Ocean, emphasizing just how influential this time period is for music.
This album showcases the future of music and the ways in which artists have the ability to distort, manipulate, and layer their voices to create unique sounds unachievable by only solely recording the human voice. When listening to this album notice the effort and skill put into creating each and every sound you hear.
4. Have a Box of Tissues on Hand
Each track on this album will leave you thinking, hard. Each song is also meticulously thought out and detailed. So if you’re craving a carefree music experience, listen elsewhere.
Tracks such as the opening song “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” will leave you wondering about notions of existence, with lyrics such as “it might be over soon.”
The song “33 God” is titled to reference the suspected age Jesus Christ died and lasts 3 minutes and 33 seconds long. “33 God” ends by quoting Psalm 22, “why are you so far from saving me?” offering Vernon’s obvious questions and doubts of higher power.
In the song “715 – CRΣΣKS” ideas of losing faith and romantic love versus the love of God are exposed, connecting to the album’s overarching themes of love, holiness versus unholiness, as well as duality. These songs are heavy to say the least.
“22, A Million” will leave you puzzled, maybe even deeply overwhelmed by its apparent oddness, but most of all it will leave you impacted.