Written by Kai Feltham
For the first time since 2011, Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver have returned with their brand new album entitled 22, A Million. Debuted live in full at Vernon’s annual Eaux Claires Festival on the 12th August, the album was finally released to great acclaim on 30th September. Drawing heavy influences from frequent collaborator James Blake; 22, A Million sees the Wisconsin born Vernon employ increased electronic production techniques and vocal editing throughout. With sample credits ranging from Paolo Nutini to Mahalia Jackson, the record creates a wholly unique soundscape wrought with emotion and struggle, resulting in a record of career defining magnitude.
Without even listening to the record this album is visibly averse to the musical norm of Bon Iver and their counterparts. Virtually unpronounceable track names such as 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄and 666 ʇ lay the foundations of what 22, A Million encapsulates; a record dissimilar to Bon Iver’s previous work in composition and production, but with the same lyrical intelligence and passion. The album is simultaneously engaging and alienating structured in what appears to be three sections with 715 – CRΣΣKS and 21 M♢♢N WATER serving as breaks in the musical stream.
The opening track, 22 (OVER S∞∞N) instantly heralds Vernon’s new direction. His flawless vocals are heightened in pitch as samples intertwine with his lyrics declaring “It might be over soon.” It is this lyric that began the album process, spoken into a portable sampler by Vernon on an island off the coast of Greece at the height of his personal struggle.
Lyrically Vernon’s work is as strong as ever. It is often difficult to decipher the true meanings of every song but they are forever thought provoking and inspiring. Thematically the album appears to touch on the subject of religion, and that of an inner struggle with one’s faith. Lead single 33 “GOD” samples Paolo Nutini’s Iron Sky with the lyric “I find God / And religions too” whilst 666 ʇ sees Vernon “Still standing in the need of prayer.” However, an article released on the official band website in the run up to the album sees bandmate Trever Hagen telling that the album is not explicitly about religion. Instead 22, A Million is about Justin himself, his struggle with being in the spotlight and feeling that his life work is constantly under public scrutiny.
Although Vernon drew on the influences of regular collaborators: James Blake and Kanye West, everything about Vernon’s work on 22, A Million is unique. From the use of sampling throughout the album to the revelation of playing a saxophone through a vocoder on 21 M♢♢N WATER this album strikes gold on every possible note. Weighing in at only 34 minutes, the album is short and sweet, but undoubtedly magnificent.
For more in depth information than I could ever give on 22, A Million and its relation to Justin Vernon’s personal journey read Trever Hagen’s accompanying album article here
Check out the lyric video for the first single 33 “God” below.