Hipsters everywhere rejoice as new Bon Iver record is weird, impressive

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, October 5th, 2016 at 10:25 PM
Hipsters everywhere rejoice as new Bon Iver record is weird, impressive by Britton Rozzelle
Album artwork for "22, A Million"

I’m not the only one to make the comparison, but Bon Iver’s newest album, “22, A Million,” is this year’s “Kid A.”

It’s an album that throws out everything you were expecting from the band — in this case, muted guitars and soulful lyrics — and replaces
it with something new; a sensation you weren’t ready for. A cavalcade of bass-boosted drums and pitch enhancements clouding frontman Justin Vernon’s usually-clear voice. It’s enchanting and it’s weird, but it’s a good album.

I’ll do my best to translate these song titles into something manageable.

“22, A Million” begins with “22(Over Soon),” a gospel- infused invitation into the world created by the songs to follow. It’s different from past Vernon works, along with his rotating cast of instrumentalists, but it’s not unwelcome. This track, in particular, feels inspired by, or created in reaction to, Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” capturing weakness and emotions and repackaging them with a jazz saxophone and altered vocals.

“10 Deathbreast” follows quickly, featuring a punchy drumline and crooning lyrics, meshed with vocoder work that wouldn’t feel out of place on mid-career Kanye tracks. “715-Creeks” is a short but potent song, drenched in familiar melancholy.

“33 ‘GOD’,” feels like the most radio-friendly of all these songs and it makes sense why it was chosen as the lead single — it’s the only one that has a typical song structure to it. That being said, it’s a strong track that weaves Vernon’s natural vocal power with the voices produced synthetically to harmonize with him. “29 #Strafford APTS” feels like a track from the self-titled, with hushed instrumentals and a quiet sentimentality, until it begins to incorporate the same techniques used in other songs on the album, creating a surreal and strong cut that serves as a solid reference point to the second half.

The dark and altogether powerful “666 t” starts with a hurried instrumental that slowly grows into something more — a track with so much personality and emotion that I couldn’t help but listen repeatedly to understand each layer of Vernon’s auditory puzzle.

“21 Moon Water” is a beautiful mess, for better or for worse. It’s a tasteful soundscape that dissolves into “8 (circle),” another return to gospel- inspired roots that excels in its production but unfortunately seems tooverstay its welcome by the end.

“45” calls back to the Bon Iver once present in self-titled and “For Emma,” but it seems out of place, given the bombasity of the tracks surrounding it, while “Million” ends the album quietly and with grace.

“22, A Million” is something best experienced without any previous understanding of what this album is. Vernon always promised that the last album would be something different, and he wasn’t wrong. In that sense, it makes it hard to review. On one hand, it excels as a unique and cerebral project. On the other, it’s bound to put off fans of previous Bon Iver (or even Volcano Choir fans).

It’s a confusing experiment, but much like Radiohead’s previously mentioned “Kid A,” that uniqueness may be something that leads this album to glory. 

Britton Rozzelle is the Executive Editor for The Spectator. He can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com. 

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