‘22, A Million’ album review
By Carlos Bilan, Contributor
22, A Million is Bon Iver’s first album in five years, so as soon as the American indie folk band posted a photo of the album cover last month, fans rejoiced that after this long hiatus, they could finally hear Justin Vernon’s soothing voice again. This album was really worth the wait.
One can consider 22, A Million, the band’s most adventurous record yet. Making a 180 degree turn by using processed vocals, jittery glitches, and executing an electronic sound, it definitely is a departure from the solemn acoustic sound of their critically acclaimed debut For Emma, Forever Ago, which contained Skinny Love, their most popular song to date. In their second album, Vernon conveyed subtle electronic sounds whereas in 22, A Million, he went full force and embraced it.
When the album was being promoted, the band released artwork for each track, which can be considered a visual representation of each song. Bon Iver having a central theme in an album is a technique the band has used in their previous album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, where every title was the name of a place or state—Calgary even gets a nod.
22, A Million covers philosophical and divine themes. An example is “715 – CR∑∑KS,” which could serve as a continuation to the Blood Bank EP’s “Woods,” which Kanye sampled in his epic “Lost in the World.” In “Woods,” Vernon sings about being lost in the world and feeling despair, but in this sequel, he sings about the love of another person, love of God, and loss of faith..
The album has an abstract cover showing numerous symbols, including hieroglyphics of pyramids, a snake, mathematical symbols, an upside down chair, etc. One can try to make sense of the meanings. My interpretation overall is that this album represents the human knowledge and how limited our thoughts can be.
The album’s sound can be distractingly cluttered and an overall mess, but I reckon that this is intended. It could convey the various questions and mysteries that humans try to decipher, and that the only clarity one has is in science, technology, or literature. This record is like science meets philosophy, which is conveyed audibly through traditional folk sound meeting the digital world.
Despite touching new ground, what makes 22, A Million surprisingly spectacular is that it is still a Bon Iver record. You can still recognize Vernon’s vocal vulnerability and solemn soul. And that’s one of the reasons why 22, A Million is an artistically innovative album. One thing is clear: It is an incredibly daring record. If you want to hear something new and fresh, then this album is a must-listen.