What a day for music last Friday was. New Francis and the Lights, new Craig David, new Regina Spektor. Spotify must have gone into cardiac arrest. But, amidst such overwhelming excitement, one artist in particular grabbed the attention of the cowbell team. Freshers week is over lads, and here to nurse you back to health after what, I assume, was a pretty disgusting week, is the saintly Bon Iver (known by his friends and family as Justin Vernon). He has arrived to cleanse your soul of one too many vodka-red bulls followed by some questionable/regretful decisions.
His last album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, was released a fair while ago in 2011, and now he marks his return with a 10-track album that is nothing short of wonderful. 22, A Million, was released on Friday and fans are already going banana-bonanza for it, even if no one quite understands the symbols going on in the track names and the album cover. It looks cool so let’s just pretend like we get it. The album came after his collaborated single with Francis and the Lights and, the Lord himself, Kanye West. Friends is a beautiful example of what happens when you bring goose bump-inducing vocals and electronic hip-hop together. It could almost be classed as an anthem it’s that epic.
Regardless of all this gushing for Bon Iver, I must admit, in his hey-days, I could never quite call myself a fan. As much as the indie kids and hipsters tried to tempt me, the fact that you could only make out one word per line in his songs always threw me off. But after listening to Friends, I realised I could probably forgive him for his lack of clarity and, instead, pay more attention to his more-than-satisfactory voice and fine production skills.
Compared to his previous indie folk music, 22, A Million ditches (not entirely) the cutesie guitars and veers off into the more experimental and electric domain. There’s a heavy use of auto-tune and vocal effects (not that old Justin needs it), which has the potential to become fake and annoying, but used in conjunction with the right tone, it can sound awesome. On tracks like 715 – CRΣΣKS and 22 (OVER S∞∞N), Vernon’s voice still sounds beautiful, even though through the majority of the song, his voice is digitalized. It probably has something to do with the triumphant harmonies that Vernon is so loved for. Personally, I believe that they are what make his songs so outstanding, and I was over the moon to see that he’s carried them through on to this album. 666 ʇ is decadent with such euphony (look it up bitches); it’s every uni acapella group’s wet dream.
All of the songs go against the typical verse and chorus structure, and Vernon just goes off into his own little world, allowing the songs to build up without being confined to the suffocating recommendations of the music industry. Maybe working with James Blake persuaded him to join ‘Team Edgy’. A personal favourite in this sense, is 8 (circle) which is slightly longer, but has the grandest journey, as it sails towards a destination of a jazzy brass climax with a groovy riff. A similar instrumental sound features in ____45____, but, like much of the album, sounds disjointed and almost improvised.
I can see how some people (the tasteless and musically challenged) would find the songs hard to follow because of their irregularity. If you listen to the end of 29 #Strafford APTS, you could be fooled into thinking that it’s time you took your headphones to Apple for an upgrade, that’s how distorted some of the sounds are. Put simply, they’re not the kind of songs that you can sing along to in the car with your mates. But sometimes, the challenging and tangled can be far more compelling. As proven by Bon Iver’s bold reinvention.
Thank you for saving us from musical boredom Justin.