Album Review: Bon Iver’s “22, A Million”


Kyra Bilgic, Editor-in-Chief

Following a moment of fame after winning “Best New Artist” at the 2012 Grammys, Bon Iver’s latest Album “22, A Million” is at once a testament to isolation and to Justin Vernon’s unfinished journey towards self discovery. Still singing with the same haunted falsetto, Vernon has managed to develop an album full of a sadness that is both touching, yet indecipherable.

Ever since the debut album, “For Emma, Forever Ago,” Bon Iver has succeeded in combining troubled melodies and ambiguous lyrics all under the guise of an inconsolable heartbroken indie singer. However, “22, A Million” lacks the folksy instrumentals of previous albums. This is in part an effort to move towards more experimental electronic beats that weave the smooth and familiar voice of Vernon with fractured instrumentals that cannot completely mask the undeniable air of longing that colors the album.

With vocals taking a backseat to the heavily synthesized and glitchy instrumentals, that have you thinking there’s something wrong with your speakers, songs like “33 ‘God’” allow Vernon to encase his aching lyrics within a hypnotizing melody that most closely resembles hip-hop in a way much unlike the other songs. The soft tiptoeing of saxophones are what make “8 (circle)” a song that manages to balance the ethereal quality of its lyrics with a graceful and stirring back track.

After the 2012 announcement that the band was taking a break, it is a different, but welcome, Bon Iver that returned to the music world. With the album’s 10 tracks, each a new and unfamiliar experience, are Vernon’s seemingly hopeless and introspective reflections that seem to result in little gained understanding.  But as a listener it is apparent that answers are not what this album is about. This album is about exploration. There is the exploration of sound with the engineered mechanic, beats invented by Vernon himself, as well as the moving exploration of Vernon’s splintered soul.

“22, A Million” is an album where emotion is found in the haunting melodies and the chilling voice of Vernon as opposed to lyrics. Vernon sings of “alimony butterflies” in a way that tears at the heart strings, but the lyrics themselves are shrouded in mystery and are hopelessly uncertain compared to the depth of the splintered melodies which speak to the soul and ensure that Bon Iver’s music is still, as it always has been, a melancholy revelation.