An appreciation of Bon Iver
In preparation of “22, A Million”
Bon Iver has a new album coming out. It’s called “22, A Million,” and it sounds like it’s going further away from what “For Emma, Forever Ago” was. As usual, Vernon’s lyrics are abstract, and sung in the signature falsetto he crafted for Bon Iver. What’s more, Vernon seems to have been playing with the alt button on his MacBook when naming the songs.
Here are the three tracks officially released ahead of the album:
(You can watch a video shot by a fan of Bon Iver performing the full album at the Eau Claires Festival)
All together, they indicate Bon Iver has completely forgotten the remote cabin where he famously recorded “For Emma” with little more than a makeshift studio and an acoustic guitar. Bon Iver is doubling down on the autotune and synths introduced on “Bon Iver,” giving “22, A Million” a much more electronic sound. Still, the sound is very much on-brand for the band.
For example, one thing Bon Iver did masterfully after its eponymous album was playing the music live at festivals and in stadiums without it sounding over-produced. The band was also able to perform tracks from “For Emma” without sitting on the stage, doing nothing, for five minutes at a time. Watch this clip of Bon Iver performing at Austin City Limits. At the 27:31 mark, they perform “Skinny Love,” which is perfectly fine (better, even) when Vernon plays it alone.
I can’t wait to see how Bon Iver performs “22 (Over S∞∞N),” with it’s multi-layered vocals, spare electric guitar riff, saxophone, strings arrangement and a Mahalia Jackson sample. That’s right, the track features Jackson’s own voice singing the lines “all these years” and “And I’m gonna shout all my trouble over” from her gospel classic, “How I Got Over.”
“22, A Million” also seems to reference Christianity multiple times. In addition to the Jackson sample, the album features songs titled “33 ‘GOD’” and “666 ʇ.” I’m firmly among those who don’t understand Bon Iver’s lyrics — literally or figuratively — but I’m so excited the band is still evolving, though not abandoning what makes them unique.
I also can’t wait to see what Kanye does with the new album. They could reunite for a new single. Kanye could randomly show up to some of Bon Iver’s European tour dates, jumping on stage to perform “Lost in the World.” I wouldn’t even be surprised if Kanye reveals he heard “22, A Million” before it came out and absconded with Vernon to a studio to cut an entire album together.
I don’t understand why this band’s music works so well in front of large crowds, but it’s refreshing in an era of music that emphasizes singles and simple, repetitive choruses. No, I’m not trying to shade today’s popular music, I’m just glad a band like Bon Iver is part of it all.