Bon Iver, “22, A Million”
22, A Million
For better or worse, Justin Vernon has moved away from the earnest isolationist folk of For Emma, Forever Ago, his 2008 debut as Bon Iver, and is now moonlighting as a soft sculptural beardo Frank Ocean with a goofy numerologist’s bent.
This has not been a simple, easy transition for Vernon, even if you do think of his shimmering falsetto’s heights and dip-diving croon as an effortlessly disarming gift from God. Considering he had to parse through the ethereal enterprise of 2011’s Bon Iver and its overall murk as a lyricist and as an arranger, 22, A Million is a gorgeous victory and a righteous revival of a talent that for a moment was only best displayed on records by Kanye West.
What’s most fascinating about 22, A Million, then, is how readily his noir-ish brand of space-soul borrows from the borrower in West (and Brian Eno and William S. Burroughs), in that it chops, dices, slices, speeds, treats, alters, nips, and tucks every sound and lyric in Vernon’s cloudy sightline. He allows his soaring, drifty, wifty croon to approximate hip-hop’s stuttering flow through the flutter-and-wow R&B of “33 ‘GOD’,” and “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄.” To maximize this scintillating brand of soul, Vernon adds several sorts of blue saxophones, the best of which honks and spits uneasily on the lovely throwback “29 #Strafford APTS.” As far as his cut-up lyricism and existential distress goes on trembling tracks such as “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” the less said (in lengthy emotive stanzas, that is) the better.
Most of this adds up as a positive for 22, A Million. But if Vernon had fully extended the album’s rich, soft futurism rather than occasionally relying on old sonic tropes, 22, A Million would more consistently soar to the heights it portends to and still often reaches. Instead, we’re left with a very strong set that nevertheless tilts on its pedestal.