It's here, guys. It's finally, actually here. It's been 5 long years since Justin Vernon gave us a new Bon Iver record, and henceforth, September 30th shall be celebrated as Bon Iver day. The record, containing 10 tracks that equate to a total of 34 minutes (which is admittedly a bit of a bummer) is hauntingly beautiful, as should be expected of Justin Vernon.
"22, A Million" has proven to be quite divisive with Bon Iver's fans as it's such a stark contrast with virtually everything he had done before, especially under the Bon Iver moniker. His previous work, falling under more of an Americana, Folk type of genre, whereas this record is incredibly experimental. Teeming with interesting electronic beats and bursting with horns, it's a sound Justin Vernon has been working on for years. There have been hints, notably the single he wrote for Zach Braff's film "Wish I Was Here". "Heavenly Father" was something so different from anything else he had released, but it proved it had been the direction he would be heading. "Heavenly Father" is one of my favorite tracks he's ever released, so I was incredibly excited to hear what was next. "22, A Million" does not disappoint.
The record as a whole tells a story of being lost, confusion and loneliness. These aren't unfamiliar themes for Vernon's music, but the delivery methods have changed drastically. "22, A Million" feels more distant, more secluded than his previous work. The record opens with an admittedly daunting statement from Justin, as he sings into a voice synthesizer "it might be over soon". It sets the record up beautifully. Each track is a dissection of these ideas, the thought that everything we've built and everything we've strived for could come crashing down in an instant.
In "715-Creeks", Vernon makes a callback to the phenomenal track from his Blood Bank EP "Woods". The entire track is Vernon's stellar voice with varying layers of auto-tune, which he utilizes to perfection. Herein lies the biggest issue a lot of people have with the record. Justin Vernon has such an amazing voice that he doesn't need all of the effects that he uses. But, Justin Vernon uses it as an artistic approach. You can tell that he's trying something different with this record.
There's also a deeply religious conundrum going on with the record, and clearly with Vernon. There are religious themes throughout (a track titled 666 and another titled 33 GOD). His exploration of these themes make for some of the most interesting listens, especially 33 GOD, which I believe is the best track on the record. It has glimpses of some of his old work, while still pushing his sound further.
There are moments that drag, namely the closing minute of "21 MOONWATER". The horns, used so magnificently throughout the record seem to drawl and scream, which is so jarring that it makes the next track "8 (circle)" a bit of a shock. It's such a slow track comparatively that it can take a minute to become accustomed to the sudden change.
As a whole, the record is a masterpiece of emotion (even with the sometimes nonsensical (heh) lyrics). It's clear this was a passion project for Justin Vernon, and it's a project that he has absolutely nailed. The ambiance, the deep meanings, the experimental soundscapes, and that incredible voice all make this a magnificent return for all of our favorite singer.