Review: Bon Iver '22, A Million'

It's been five years since we last heard from Justin Vernon, the man behind Bon Iver and his third album shows he's not one for convention or rule-following. News of his latest release reached fans when he played the album in its entirety at his own festival in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The mostly unpronounceable track names were sent out via an app and tongues have been waggling away ever since. 

Vernon's most experimental material yet has been a long time in the making. The eagerly-anticipated third album borders on hypnotic and will have you rushing to repeat the ten beautifully blissful ballads over and over. Tracks such as '33 "God"' are laced with the simplest of songwriting and soaring melodies that sound utterly divine when fixed together. 

Ever since Vernon's 2012 (arguably rightful) Grammy Awards win, the discussion has rarely halted amongst critics and fans alike as to what path the musician would choose when it came to making the next move in his career. '22, A Million' is edgier, bolder and more fantastic than ever before but it took more than just a prestigious award win to turn him to the experimental side and bring him out of the mythical cabin.

Vernon's 2011 self-titled album 'Bon Iver' read like a 'Visit Wisconsin' advert, with its geographic track names and autumnal tunes the perfect accompaniment for any woodland walk. '22, A Million' sees a departure from this past seasonal state. ‘10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄' features heavy uses of synthesisers and manipulated vocals that Vernon had yet to tackle, but this mesmerising track nails it in one. 

That's not to say all of the elements of his previous material are rendered obsolete. '666 ʇ' sounds the most stylistically similar to old hit single 'Blood Bank', proving there's still a touch of the former insular musician tucked away inside Vernon somewhere. Similarly, album opener '00000 Million' and '8 (Circle)' take on more melancholic tones and feel more closely related to songs from Vernon's 2008 breakout album 'For Emma, Forever Ago'.

Justin Vernon may have spent a fair amount of time on the brink of isolation in the past, and he may not have employed the same tactics with record number three but his labour's pulled off, regardless of the route he took to get there. The otherworldly balled-packed album documents the struggle of identity whilst ensuring that people learn you don't have to fully 'get' a piece of music to take pleasure from it. 

Words Lauren Wade

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