Intricate, ambiguous and deeply thoughtful, backed by some of the weirdest electronic sounds you have ever heard, “22, A Million” is Bon Iver’s first album in over five years.
The album is odd, even by Justin Vernon’s (the group’s songwriter and producer) standards. However, the unique sound and powerful lyrics make for a beautiful collection of songs that are truly unlike anything he, or anyone, has ever created.
“22, A Million” is reminiscent of Kanye West’s “Yeezus,” in how both artists made sudden switches to completely new sounds, with similar electronic emphasis. Not coincidentally, Kanye has repeatedly praised Vernon as “his favorite living artist” and reportedly even helped convince him not to scrap “22” entirely when Vernon began to doubt its finishing.
The beauty of the album is how it’s so digitally processed and consciously produced, yet just as raw and powerful as the acoustic guitar and single voice that we heard on the group’s first two albums.
The sudden transition from the acoustic folk music of “For Emma, Forever Ago” (2007) and “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” (2011) to the computerized electronic sound of “22” is remarkable, but just as important is the shift in meaning.
When Vernon began writing his first album, he was living alone in a cabin in Wisconsin. He had just broken up with both of his bands and his girlfriend and the somber lyrics reflected this, exploring loneliness and the fragility of life’s relationships.
But born in “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” and expanded on in “22, A Million” is the idea of accepting this, that nothing is permanent and to lose and to change is to live.
The first track “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” opens with the words “it might be over soon,” and from there the album builds upon this idea and in a way describes the concept of the album itself: life is temporary, so why not branch out and try new things?
Although there is no lack of new sound, Vernon doesn’t separate entirely from his previous work, with songs like “29 #Strafford APTS,” which uses only an acoustic guitar and quiet horns. “00000 Million” features a solo piano with a peaceful melody that resembles the music of Bruce Hornsby, who Vernon had cited as an influence even before the release of his debut album in 2007.
Vernon’s lyrics are captivating and thought-provoking and his message is clear, if you listen closely. It’s easy to get caught up in the music and his distinct voice and at times it may even seem unlistenable. Try listening to “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” for the first time.
But the album as a whole transitions from song to song beautifully and with patience and marination “22, A Million” will undoubtedly prove itself as one of the best albums of the last twenty years.