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coverpic flag US - Wisconsin - Full Moon 247 - 10/16/16

Bon Iver
22, A Million

Bon Iver's new album, 22, A Million is an amazing listen and a remarkable record, as it peeks, as Bon Iver's most experimental and cryptically album yet. It's beyond the sparse and intimate debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago (2007), and the less sparse, but yet sparse, toned down Bon Iver (2011), which was more of a 'band album'. As was main-man Justin Vernon's 'side project' (with Collections Of Colonies Of Bees) Volcano Choir's two albums; Unmap and its follow-up, Repave. 22, A Million is more a Justin Vernon with friends album, as it's credited 'all played and written by Justin Vernon'. Yet, the Bon Iver 'collective' is present, as the main players from earlier on are present. Such as Sean Carey, Matthew McCaughan, Michael Lewis, Andrew Fitzpatrick, Rob Moose, Mike Noyce and Colin Stetson. Carey and Lewis are even credited for (additional) songwriting along with Ryan Olson, BJ Burton, and Ben Lester. The album also contains samples of songs by/performed by Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Sharon Van Etten, Jim Ed Brown, Paolo Nutini, Lonnie Holley, The Supreme Jubilees, The Toys, and Fionn Regan. Yet, this is a collection of highly personal songs by Vernon.

The 34 minutes long 22, A Million is indeed electronic and glitchy, heavy with symbols, signs and numbers. Where Bon Iver had (mainly) titles with geographical names, this new album's songs all have titles which are numerical and special characters heavy as the ten tracks are entitled: 1. "22 (OVER S∞∞N)"; 2. "10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄"; 3. "715 - CRΣΣKS"; 4. "33 'GOD'"; 5. "29 #Strafford APTS"; 6. "666 ʇ"; 7. "21 M◇◇N WATER"; 8. "8 (circle)"; 9. "____45_____"; and 10. "100000 Million". Phew... To make things easier, we could go by the titles as they're listed in the lyrics sheet: "22 Over Soon", "10 Death Breast", "715 Creeks", "33 "God"", "29 #Strafford Apts", "666 Cross", "21 Moon Water", "8 Circle", "45", and "1000000 Million". Or, simply call them songs 1-10... or, rather their given number: "22", "10", "715", "33", "29", "666", "21", "8", "45", and "1000000". This is not meant to be easy...

These numbers could surely have some religious, biblical meaning, as if these songs were some psalms from Vernon's new testament. Well, according to Vernon's long time friend Trever Hagen (who plays trumpet on one of the tracks on this album, as well), '22 stands for Justin, the number's reccurence in his life has become a meaningful pattern through encounter and recognition... A Million is the rest of that world: the millions of people who we will never know, the infinite and endless...'. If Hagen's right then the album's first song, "22 Over Soon" is about Vernon while the closing "1000000 Million" is about the rest of the world, or to infinity and beyond into the endlessness. When I started listening to 22, I came to think of Vernon's link to Peter Gabriel, because some of the tracks could've been a 'modern day Gabriel'. Peter Gabriel covered Bon Iver's "Flume" for his Scratch My Back (2010) of cover songs. Then, Bon Iver did a version of Gabriel's "Come Talk To Me" for Peter Gabriel's concept album And I'll Scratch Yours (2013) with most of the artist that Gabriel covered (in 2010) now covering Gabriel. Bon Iver and Peter Gabriel even put out this version as a split 7" single for Record Store Day 2010. Anyway, this was just a brief, quick thought after the first couple of listens. If "22" is Vernon, the song "22 Over Soon"'s lyrics is about 'confirmation', 'constellation', 'consecration', and 'scission'. Like he sings:

'n then You expelled all decision,
as I may stand up with a vision...
within a rise there lies a scission,
it might be over soon'

'It might be over soon' goes the chorus. What's over? Life? Everything? Is this about belief, death, rebirth? Hagen further continues: 'The ten songs on 22, A Million are a collection of sacred moments, love's torment and salvation, contexts of intense memories, signs that you can pin meaning onto or discard as coincidence'. It seems this new album shows Vernon fighting, possibly over-winning his daemons. In the song "10 Death Brest" he even sings the line 'dedicoding every daemon...'. In the same song he sings: 'I been sleeping in a stable, mate', which indeed is quite a biblical line. If "22 Over Soon" is a soul-tinted electronica piece, "10 Death Brest" is a rhythm'n'soul song. In the direct "33 God" he sings 'I find God and religions, too...', while the sheet quotes 'why are you so far from saving me (Psalm 22)'. In religion, Psalm 22 (from The Book of Psalms, The Old Testament) goes: 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' So, if this is Vernon confronting his religion or his religious views, is this the story of the feeling of his 'back-against-the-wall' view or perspective, with agony, abandonment, suffering, and eventually gratitude and salvation?

One of the highlights of the album is "29 #Strafford Apts", where some of the lyrics' keywords and phrases are: 'paramind', 'canonize', 'sub find', and 'some night', with the lines 'a womb, an empty robe, enough, you're rolling up, you're holding it, you're fabric now...', and ''re holding out, you're bent prize', plus 'I hold the note you wrote and know, you've buried all your alimony, butterflies...'. Vernon's lyrics are cryptically and possible to understand or relate to but at times, they are difficult to dig into or understand. They can also stand out as double-edged, as they can be read in different directions or work on several levels.

At times, the album holds (almost) too much of the voice effected, Vocoderish tracks (and lots of synth programming). That said, many Bon Iver songs suits the effects rather well. Bon Iver's dreamscapes/soundscapes fits perfect with the experimental electronica sounds. To quote "21 Moon Water": 'The math ahead... the math behind it...'. Some of the songs have this soft sound, all drenched and bathed in delicate saxophones by the 12-man ensemble Sad Sax of Shit. And, yes, it's quite fitting and neat. 22, A Million holds the gospels according to Justin Vernon. It can be difficult to get into, but at times, it's well worth the listen. It's a totally different album than the former albums, but it's as rich and colourful as both ...Emma as well as the self-titled second platter. Maybe 30 years from Vernon will receive the Nobel prize in literature... until then, you can start google and search for the meaning for all the numbers of 22, A Million: '22'; '10'; '715'; '33'; '29'; '666'; '21'; '8'; '45'; '1,000.000'. I guess you can dig deep and wide. Like he sings in the closing "100000 Million": '...where the days have no numbers.. [...] ..cause the days have no numbers.. [...] ..when the days have no numbers...'. Well, our days are numbered, but no one knows his or her exact number, right? Isn't this all a matter of either belief, superstition, chance, randomness or coincidence?

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You may also want to check out our Bon Iver article/review: Bon Iver.

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