Album Review: Bon Iver - “22, A Million”

EDIT: Please read my latest (re)review of this very album. I didn’t portray my feelings about this album well enough, and I feel as though I did it a great injustice:

A far stray from Bon Iver’s previous style, “22, A Million” is a visionary album that takes you on a wild trip through Justin’s supposed ups, downs, and pleads for relief/forgiveness on both a spiritual level and even a religious level (as seen/heard in “33, ‘GOD’”).

From an outside, first view perspective, the titles alone are pretty reflective of the album’s entire feel and quality: weird, trippy, but extremely unique in every way, starting with “22 (Over Soon)” (Stylized as “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” ).

“22 (Over Soon)” is a great introduction to help bring the listener into the album, starting with a calming chopped and looped vocal sample, then a high-pitched voice sample of Justin’s own voice, and then the soft and soothing lyrics to start and end the song. Overall a very peaceful and serene song, very contrasting to the next song in the album.

The next song in “22, A Million” is “10 (Death Breast)” (Stylized as 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄”). “10 (Death Breast)” is a complete 180 flip from “22 (Over Soon)”, featuring a pulsating and driving distorted drum loop in the beginning and then the synthesized, Autotune-like vocals coming in after, along with the occasional throbbing and warbling bass line cutting in at the perfect times. The vocals are creative and reflect so much emotion for being extremely left-field and virtually undecipherable.

The third track in the album is “715 (Creeks)” (Stylized as “715 - CR∑∑KS”). A emotional adventure that manages to amaze me, even with it’s lack of any type of instrument other than Justin’s own (albeit modulated) voice. Soulful, chock full of feelings of loneliness and heartfelt love to a mysterious person or belief. It made me feel as if I was that person searching, seeking endlessly for something or someone that might not return again (as referenced in the lyrics, “finding both your hands as second sun came pass the glass” and “turn around now, you’re my A-Team”).

The forth and arguably best track of the album is “33 ‘(GOD)’”. Starting with a happy and euphoric piano loop along with a squeaking door sample and the pitched-up vocals sampled from “Morning” by Willis S. Graham, it gives you feeling of being in Heaven, surrounded by clouds and peaceful thoughts. Then, the falsetto voice of Justin talks of previous experiences in the Ace Hotel, and it’s connection to God (or a god). The song then rises to a psychedelic rock chorus with Justin’s euphoric vocals again, but with more power behind them. It all wraps up with the same subdued string section serenading us to completion along with a pitched-down vocal sample chanting, “Why are you so far from saving me?”, a lyric taken from Psalm 22 in the Bible. Overall, a song to rival all songs both lyrically and atmospherically.

The fifth track in the album is “29 #Strafford APTS”, a very minimal and calming song featuring the natural vocals of Justin serenading us about a recollection of good times and then spiraling us into deep want of aforementioned good times again. Each chorus is extremely short, but oh-so fulfilling, striking every chord in my soul. All the way until the very last chorus, which ends in faux digital distortion, displaying Justin’s desperate calls for a revisit of the old days.

The sixth track in “22, A Million” is “666 (upsidedowncross)” (Stylized as “ 666 ʇ”). Starting out with a very minimal and metronomic beeping synth that sounds as if raindrops were transformed into a melody. Overall, the song features the same modulated vocals as before, and has a slow, almost Techno-like buildup to a peaceful conclusion. The track features little main percussion, but lots of texture and tons of feeling. When I listen to it, I feel a sense of defience and rebellion.

The seventh song in the album is “21 (Moon Water)” (Stylized as “ 21 M◊◊N WATER”). A placid atmospheric song that relies heavily on texture and Vocaloid-like vocals to set the stage emotionally. The song is interesting in both the facts that, A, it steadily gets more chaotic and dissonant as it plays and, B, the lyrics are very simple and don’t seem to have any over or underlying meaning. At the end, it seamlessly transitions to the next track in the album, “ 8 (circle)”.

“ 8 (circle)” is a track that feels as if the 80’s soft rock ballad had a baby with psychedelic rock in a song that truly showcases the vocal talent of Justin. The track then transitions into a chorus of Justin’s vocals overlaid in different octaves to give a “angelic choir” effect and to give a platform for the end of the track to start on. Overall, the song is very simple, yet very emotional, which seems to be the norm in this album. I also noticed the heavy use of the saxophone, which will be all the more relevant in the next track in the album, “ ____45_____”.

“45”, (Stylized as “ ___45_____”, that’s 4 underscores, “45”, then 5 underscores). Swirling layered saxophones, and the deep, country-esque vocals of Justin help make this track truly exhibit it’s heroic feeling, along with it’s symbolic lyrics laden with the consistent reference to being both carved and caught in fire, showing how the experiences that Justin went through shaped him to where he is now, where he is now being semi-unknown and sort of in the air and left to interpretation.

The tenth and final track in “22, A Million” is “1000000 Million” (Stylized as “000000 Million”). A obvious ending track in both it’s sound and in it’s title, self-referencing the album in the form of the number, 1,000,000. It has a very conclusionary mood, sort of feeling as if Justin didn’t accomplish what he set out to do, as set up in the previous tracks. Featuring just a piano backtrack and the distant, chorus-like vocals of Justin, “1000000 Million” is half melancholic and half contempt, and is an excellent ending track, sounding like it would fit well in the ending credits of an indie movie.

Overall, “22, A Million” is as unique as it’s track titles, and as emotional as a roller-coaster, and is a very heartfelt album in which you can literally hear Justin’s emotions all laid out and open for the public. If “22, A Million” was a book, I feel it would be a tale of a man’s search for a higher meaning and coming up with nothing, but not giving up or quitting now. I highly recommend this to anyone who is/was a fan of Bon Iver and is looking for a new twist on their previous style, or for someone looking for a album where every track is crucial to the overall mood of the album, and is looking for a album that tells a story that’ll last throughout the ages.

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