By Aaron Hartley–
Justin Vernon, the creator and front man of the indie folk juggernaut Bon Iver, never intended to be famous. He captured attention with the self-released love anthem “For Emma, Forever Ago” in 2007.
In 2011, Vernon and the band he gathered to be called Bon Iver drew international acclaim with “Bon Iver, Bon Iver,” which marked a more ethereal and spacey indie folk sound over the minimalism of the last record.
The album was internationally revered, selling over a hundred thousand in its first week. It topped multiple year-end lists and was nominated for several Grammys.
But for someone who doesn’t really enjoy the spotlight, where are you supposed to go from there? This question is answered on the band’s first album in five years, “22, A Million.”
Since 2010, Vernon has collaborated with several artists including Kanye West, especially on his “Yeezus” album, and electronic R&B singer James Blake. The influence of these types of alternative and unconventional sounds and styles is very apparent on “22, A Million,” which takes a leap away from indie folk into the realm of folktronica.
The opener, “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” one of ten equally cryptic track titles, is somewhat jarring on first listen. Layers of samples build in the intro before Vernon’s falsetto enters and instruments then meld. It’s a disarming song, said to be written about Vernon’s anxiety on fame and the hope that it may be over soon.
Delicate ballads like “8 (Circle)” and “666 ʇ” as well as “33, ‘GOD’” utilize layers of samples and exquisite folk melodies to great effect in what is one of the most sonically stunning compositions released this year.
Others, like “715 – CRΣΣKS” and “10 d E A T h b R E a s t,” are abrasive in their electronic mixing, fitting the mold of the album, albeit being less radio-friendly than others.
Many of the lyrics on this record are nonsensical and written purely for their sonic value rather than telling the story. It’s the sound, rather, that tells the story in all of its glitch and strange wonder.
Vernon ruminates of fame, religion, days past and life through the often esoteric and sublime music. He doesn’t necessarily find an answer for himself either.
The final, beautifully haunting track “00000 Million” shows Vernon’s anxious, yet accepting uncertainty, which is an easy request. “22, A Million” is one of the most challenging, creative and stunningly gorgeous records of the year.