Image courtesy of pitchfork.com
5 years after the success of Justin Vernon’s debut record Bon Iver, Bon Iver, the indie folk musician that we thought we knew and loved is back, with a whole new sound that he calls ‘folktronica’- a genre he’s brought back to our attention and into the mainstream through his previous success, but which of course is no new innovation to subculture folk history.
It is, however, a definite shift in Bon Iver’s creative output: there are no more lulling acoustic guitar strums and calming goat-y vocals: Bon Iver is a different, more serious man. The record opens with confused glitching- it’s not until Justin’s beautiful vocal harmonies come in that we’re sure our MP3 file isn’t corrupt, and then we’re drawn into the album, like angels have descended and pulled us up into the disturbing depths of Vernon’s mind. The soft lullaby of the saxophone draws us in further, and suddenly we’re lost in the experimental dream that 22, A Million surely is.
There is no standard song form: the record slowly walks us through the beauty of Bon Iver’s uncertainty about life, his existential insecurity and his clear boredom with just playing his acoustic guitar and singing over the top. Nothing is safe about this record, and nobody can escape the innovative folk world that Vernon’s created.
‘29 #Strafford APTS’ is probably the most recognisable track- still streaked with Bon Iver’s electronic vocal harmonies, but built around a string section, it is more what we might have expected. Neatly slotted almost exactly halfway through the record, it acts as a nice grounding for the listener to grasp a hold of some sense of reality, before lurching straight back into the album.
I don’t think it’s possible to review this album without mentioning the title tracks, which themselves are enough to confuse our already disoriented folk-loving brains- ‘00000 Million’, ’33 “GOD”’… It’s almost enough to make us want to snap straight back to 2011 and forget any of this ever happened. Almost.